Notes from a pianist: Please don’t do this

Mark Thomas of the Joachim Raff Society has previously had some positive things to say about my recordings on CD, although it seems from his more recent comments that my interpretations are not always to his taste. Of course, we all have our own preferences in the interpretation of piano music and I welcome the fact that several works of which I made the first recording have since been recorded by other pianists (for example, the Piano Sonata by Victor Bendix, of which I made the first recording in 2010, has since had a further two commercial recordings, both of which are interesting interpretations that add to our understanding and appreciation of the work).

Although I am happy to explain the basis and rationale of my interpretations should this benefit from further clarification (as has been done in this series of posts), I would hope that anyone who hears them would recognize firstly that they reflect conscious and considered interpretative choices, and secondly that as such they are part of an approach to the performance of the music that prizes coherence, integrity and fidelity to the spirit of the composer.

The rest is subjective taste. In some respects, I am an anti-virtuoso pianist, deliberately avoiding exhibitionism and overt display in favour of what I believe are more profound and vital musical qualities. This places me against the prevailing currents in pianism, and is not something everyone will identify with or like. It is, however, the way I believe the music in question should be played if it is to reveal the interpretative aspects that I regard as integral to my personal identification with the work in question.

As I hope will be obvious to any informed surveyor of my work as a pianist, I have the command to do whatever I want at the piano. If I often choose a slower tempo than might possibly be taken by others, I do so not because I cannot play faster, but because I believe the work in question gains from a broader approach and that I can express its emotional content more fully by playing it in this way. If a model is sought for this approach among the great pianists, then I would point to the strong influence on my musical outlook of such artists as Grigory Sokolov and Valery Afanassiev.

Mark Thomas writes, “I’ve found that, if one has the audio software to do it, the flatter performances can be injected with a lot more life by speeding things up by 5-10% (being careful to maintain the original pitch).” In some respects, it would be fair to say that once you purchase a recording you may do whatever you like with it. But I appeal to any who may read this not to do as he suggests.

My interpretative decisions as to speed may be controversially slow on occasion, and some may prefer faster or flashier approaches. If that is what is desired, then it is proper to look to other pianists who are more to one’s taste. The deliberate distortion by speeding up of my recordings, however, disrespects their integrity as interpretations. Please don’t do it.