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Again, the ways in which pianists may consider these works as practice material and their approach to them in performance can differ widely as a direct consequence of their especially effective dual purpose as pedagogical and concert material. Only a week or so ago, the English pianist Jonathan Powell (whose Sorabjian mission has already led him to perform and record more of Sorabji's piano works than any other musician to date) spoke of the imperative requirement to practice them very slowly with little or no pedal (and in this he reflects Chopin's own advice), though clearly he would not perform them in this way; Powell believes -- as all pianists should be encouraged to do -- in Chopin's Études, along with Godowsky's versions of them, Alkan's Études and the 48 of Bach as not merely important but indispensable practice material.

Gordon rightly draws attention to the general shortcomings of musical notation, of which his editorial work and composing activities will doubtless have heightened his awareness; it is not difficult to conclude that Chopin himself must have been at least as conscious of the limitations of what could be conveyed by means of pen and ink alone.

The late and great Shura Cherkassky used to be taken to task by some for 'never playing anything the same way twice'. This rather pointless observation fails to take account of the fact that, like any other pianist, he could hardly have done otherwise; it also ignores the fact that Cherkassky, far from being merely waywardly capricious, was a highly disciplined pianist, for all the memorably inventive fantasy of his best performances.

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Copyright © 9 March 2004 Alistair Hinton, UK


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