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HD: The great thing about music is its charm. Much of it is neglected, like Czerny, which is also wonderful. Yet no one has heard it, and nobody mentions the Sonatas for solo piano, the concertos, the duets -- of which he wrote far more than Schubert.
BN: The same with Moscheles.
HD: Yes! Moscheles wrote a lot of transcriptions and arrangements. We play the Grand Duo on Themes by Weber, and we found out that it became a piece for violin and piano, and a work for orchestra, also for other combinations.
IB: Debussy and Ravel have both done this, and it is one way of ensuring that their music is played.
HD: I think this was essential in their day. The Czerny and Schubert works we know were originally for duet, and this I think gives their music that something extra. We have been doing concerts locally, and we used to perform six a year trying not to repeat a single work. We did this for about twenty years, but then we found that we didn't have time to feed in new pieces.
IB: Also, we were scraping the bottom of the barrel.
HD: My eyesight wasn't as good as it used to be and I couldn't learn things so quickly, and we discovered we were getting older.
IB: Yes, we may be getting on in years!

HD: We are just about to continue our new series at the Maltings Arts Theatre. Before this in 1975, we did almost every duet that Schubert wrote in four weekly series of concerts at London's Purcell Room. That was devastating! In the year before, we approached the Vicar locally and asked whether we could try them out beforehand during the lunch hour. He agreed, and people came and ate their sandwiches. Apples, crisps and celery were banned, but coffee allowed. So, we were almost ready, but when we came to drive the car to the Purcell Room the following year, there and back, we became depressed.
IB: We started to have arguments over everything!
HD: You see, when you have duos for violin and piano, clarinet and piano, or even a string quartet, there is usually one person who has the final decision. With a string quartet, you have a leader, and when you have a violin and viola together, the lower string instrument or the other one assumes control. But with two instruments the same, you don't have a leader! It's very democratic, and you really have to agree on every tiny thing to the millisecond. Without that agreement, there are constant fallings out.

BN: In Schubert's music, the Viennese lilt and nuance in the phrasing, touch, singing line and overall style, even the pauses and silences, require complete mastery.
HD: Not in our case. With her beside me, she will follow exactly what I do, and where she leads, I will follow her. We don't have to think about it. The more conscious you are of this, you have to bear in mind that I still shock people by telling them that we only rehearse a minimal amount. There are several reasons: One, is posturpathic. When you are playing duets, the spine is permanently twisted. You are leaning over, or away, and not in a good piano playing position, so the longer you are doing this, the more physical damage you incur. The more you rehearse, the less spontaneous you become, and you don't rehearse nuances. You will say: 'Something needs to be done here' and we will do it. But we never rehearse it!
IB: When Judi Dench chose Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Rachmaninov's Third Concerto for Private Passions, you listened to the piano's opening phrase. That's something you don't rehearse, it comes straight from the head.
HD: The late Peter Stadlen reviewing one of our Schubert concerts wrote: 'Although they are playing hausmusik, every so often they step over the border into a spiritual world.' That's the way we feel about it. Some of it is rum-ti-tum, but every so often the composer transports you across that border. We can both feel it coming.

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Copyright © 20 January 2005 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


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