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Stylistic blendings

Did this incite you to perform chamber music with musical colleagues?

'It happened early on at the Conservatory and became a great influence. Like the Brahms Sonatas Op 120. First with viola, then with clarinet. Naturally we had clashes of opinion at first, but in these instances you have to adjust yourself compared to what others think, what you think. We all deserved the chances of obtaining a finished result. So, we all had to compromise.' Have you since discussed this with Jimmy Gibb? 'He believes that you increase your understanding by playing in small ensembles -- three, four or five people in trios, quartets and quintets. I really appreciated his suggestions, and it's enormous fun, also.'

Communication with others all striving for success, can be more so than in concerto appearances which might come later in any pianist's career. Here, you have a mass of player temperaments to deal with.

'But this is different because the orchestra accompanies the soloist, really. With an ensemble you possess equal rights.' There, you need to integrate your role. 'Exactly. Orchestra leaders will follow you at the end of the day, but in an ensemble you have equal character, equal parts. Generally, I find chamber music harder than concertos, but it depends on the occasion.' Particularly Brahms, where you cannot afford to make mistakes in music so tightly linked to style and ensemble. 'He is the most limited and free composer, ever. You know, I love to perform him but I find his music so demanding.'

Do you go back to earlier composers to discover the secret of how their music should sound?

'You may think you can play Schubert well, but he is the hardest of the lot with the specific Viennese style which has largely disappeared with performers today, while coping with his original harmonies at the same time'. And to incorporate the correct musical lilt that links the softness of his melodies with the sudden outbursts, in long sequences. 'His music also requires a firmness in notation.'

So, your repertoire is Chopin, Schumann, Brahms and Debussy? All of whom reflect different nuances, styles and approaches. Brahms, has to be crystal clear in the left hand which totally corresponds to the right while bringing out the middle parts. Debussy is atmospheric, Chopin -- brilliant, Mendelssohn and Schumann -- intricate and involved. How easy do you acquire a cross section of knowledge and ability?

'It is as easy as talking to different people who speak their own language. Each has something individual to impart and you have to understand every one of them; but my main joy is to perform Bach, especially his fugues. Mastering all the voices within his constructive element. It's a great challenge, but a joy as well -- especially to bring out the music from the voicings and discover how to characterise the various dance elements -- German, French, Italian, English.' Is there a link with other subjects? 'Through music -- Philosophy. Science and people, tied in with reading and studying. I used to be a semi-professional runner and long jumper. Every day, I would practise to go faster and faster, knowing exactly when to stop. I found a great link with music.' By building up climaxes, then holding back at salient points until the moment when you increase the speed to bring out the colours and emotional passion.

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Copyright © 5 December 2004 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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