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Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy - Variations Sérieuses

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by Francois de Larrard, Dec 30, 2010.

  1. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Dear All,
    Please find a recording of a famous piece among the classical piano repertoire. It took me several months to learn it, and still I am far from the perfection. I don't know if it is worth putting it on the PS site, since there is already a nice version (average sound, but great technical mastery and musicality). Anyway, this is a beautiful set of variations, and an excellent work to improve technique. I hope you enjoy the piece, if not this version. Happy new year to all PS members and visitors !

    Mendelssohn - Variations Sérieuses Op.54 (12:40)
     
  2. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    Francois,
    Congratulations on adding this great work to your repertoire! Ignoring some scattered minor blemishes, your interpretation was at times more "careful" than I prefer; I would have hoped for a bit more elan, but your performance is IMO entirely worthy of representing Mendelssohn's creation to listeners over the web. I hope this is selected for inclusion in the library. I know many will enjoy it!
    Regards :)
     
  3. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Francois, I admire your capability to regularly submit quality recordings of large and important works. This is one of the few Mendelssohn piano works I really like - while a keen admirer of his orchestral music I find his piano writing often saccharine and/or shallow. But this set is a masterpiece.

    I agree with Eddy that this is a worthy performance, despite the numerous small slips. So I'm putting it up on the site as we speak.
    But IMO this rendition is not quite without its problems. Indeed it is a bit cautious in places, but despite that the faster variations seem a bit ragged and sometimes choppy. A little bit more polish could have cured that I think. The slower variations are beautifully done. Is there a bad edit just before the middle of variation 6 ? One point of critique is the dynamics which you sometimes not seem to observe, or even do them contrary to what's written (I noticed a sudden forte where piano was indicated, this could be a matter of scores though).

    Anyway, not too nag too much - I know you are not in favor of polishing pieces to death :D And it is still a good listen.
     
  4. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    There are a fearsome number of notes in this piece, and you're getting most of them! I don't mind the slower-than-usual tempos. Most of the excitement in this work comes from the articulation and the dynamic contrasts. Your articulation is very clear and crisp. But where dynamics are concerned, as Chris points out, you could do a lot more. Generally the fast passages can be lighter and quieter.

    Have you listened to many of Mendelssohn's orchestral works? He wrote some of the most exciting pianissimos ever!

    Another thing you can consider is the connections between variations. In particular, at variation 7 the excitement is really building--to me it seems like a shame to take time before going on to variation 8.

    Thanks for sharing this enjoyable recording.

    At 3:25? I didn't actually notice it on a first hearing.
     
  5. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Dear Friends,
    Thank you for your interest and valuable comments about this recording. This is the good point when you post a famous piece: more (mostly justified) criticism, but finally more reactions :) !
    Thank you for your indulgence, Eddy. Regarding the lack of elan, you're right. The thing is that I am not equipped to drive as fast as I would like in such a winding road, and I have to care about difficult turns, trying not to jump in the precipice !
    Thank you, Chris. Well, for a number of decades, I have been practicing my piano most evenings (when I am not travelling or having parties or other social events), and my way of practice is to sight-read a piece, then to try to play it as well as I can, then to record it and finally to go to another one. Until some years ago, these recordings were poor cassettes that had for only career to collect dust in my attic, but now, thanks to PS, I have found a more motivating goal !
    The numerous defects of this rendition have at least two origins: the first one lies in my technical limitations (especially for the faster parts), and the other to my poor reading ability, in which originates my preference to play by heart. This is good for delivering more personnal and sincere renditions, but tends to alter the rigor and the exactitude regarding the display of the original score. When I come back to the score after many (partly wrong) executions by memory, I have difficulties to correct my interpretation. Sometimes it is better to keep both the errors and the energy and movement...
    However, as for variation 6, I cannot hear any edit... Maybe your computer made a random bad noise when you have listened it ? Mine does that from time to time...
    Yes, I make a majority of right notes, so this rendition is democraticly acceptable :) . But if art deals with absolutism, then only Benedetti Michelangeli, Maurizio Pollini and a few others are eligible...
    Hanysz, I agree with all your points. Yes my play lacks dynamics; however, when I compare my recent recordings with the ones I did thirty years ago, I think I have made some progresses, but there is still road ahead. Regarding lightness, maybe I have an excuse with my piano, which is quite heavy and difficult to control in the pp range (according to various professional pianists who played it).
    Finally, the silence before variation 8 probably originates in my anxiety before accessing to this dangerous zone ! And I should definitely listen more orchestral Mendelsohnn... Regards,
     
  6. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    This used to be my method too. However I've finally come to realize that one must practice extra on the hard parts.

    This seems to contradict what you sai above, about practising sight-reading !?

    My computer never makes a bad noise. It is very well-behaved :D
    I listened several times on two different computers.
    The glitch is at 3:24-3:25 and makes me think something was cut or pasted here. Anyway, not a big deal. Adding reverb tends to smooth out these things a bit but maybe you did not do that here.
     
  7. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Chris,
    I too practice difficult sections, of course. But I may make reading errors, that I tend to keep since later I don't watch the score anymore...
    Yes there was probably a cut in variation 6, but I forgot it since I don't hear anything noticeable - but you may have a PhD diploma in cut detection, haven't you ?
     
  8. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Nah, I'm entirely self-taught :lol:
     
  9. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Francois,

    Congratulations on your recording of this large and intricate work of Mendelssohn! To me, this is the highest pinnacle of Mendelssohn's piano works. This piece is of the Romantic Age, yet retains the strong discipline of Classicism with some references to the Baroque too (which greatly interested the composer). As you know, Mendelssohn was usually at his best in his orchestral works. In fact, he sometimes dreaded writing piano compositions, especially when pressured to do so by his impatient publisher, perhaps explaining some of the more banal and shallow melodies in a few of the Songs without Words. But not in the "Variations Serieuses"! It's obvious that this was not a mere chore, but truly an inspired and artful work. These variations contain much intricate passagework, and I believe that your extensive playing of Bach served you quite well here. My favorite moment is the big and formidable coda. You certainly put all the music across to the listener. I enjoyed listening. Bravo!

    David
     
  10. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi David,
    Thank you very much for your kind words, and for bringing information about Mendelssohn. Actually it is the first piece I've ever played from this composer. From your general appreciation of Mendelssohn' piano works, I understand I can only go towards less interesting music. Too bad, but I can attest that I got great pleasure in practicing these variations. Yes, they are in fact closer to Baroque music than to less structured (or more freely shaped) romantic music like Schumann or Chopin. Apparently the filiation comes from Bach and goes directly to Brahms. Kind of German dynasty... Talking about Bach, there is a bunch of beautiful preludes and fugues by Mendelssohnn which are worth practicing, if not as varied as the Variations sérieuses.
     
  11. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Not quite true! Maybe the Variations are the best of Mendelssohn's piano works, but there is still much of interest amongst the other pieces. The Songs Without Words are of variable quality, but the best are very good. The Andante and rondo capriccioso, op. 14, is an exciting piece to play (although it may be awkward if your piano action is heavy).
     
  12. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Yes, that is a marvellous piece too, almost on a par with the variations. Damn tricky to play though :x
     
  13. hyenal

    hyenal New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Francoise, congratulations on your achievement here! This is a really great piece and because the guessable technical difficulty I never tried to learn it myself. As already pointed out above I missed on some variations the pianissimo of great intimacy and at the same time of suspenseful tension. But I could hear that the actions of your piano are heavy, too.
    Happy New Year!!! :D
     
  14. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hello Hye-Jin
    Thank you for your kind message and wishes. Yes, control of the pp is one of the ultimate goals a pianist must try to reach. Maybe when I'll be 80 years old... Happy new year to you and your family, with plenty of piano practice, of course !
     
  15. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Francois,

    I agree that you might like to look into Mendelssohn's Six Preludes & Fugues, Op. 35. During the 19th century he was at the forefront of rediscovering Bach. Where you've spent much time with the WTC, it might be interesting to explore how Mendelssohn took 17th century musical forms and then recreated them in the more modern Romantic idiom. The set is rarely heard, so I'm sure, if you were to record it, many here would probably be hearing it for the first time.

    David
     
  16. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thanks, David, for this wise advice. Actually I have a recording of these pieces. Some of them look quite acrobatic. However, it is my experience that as long as one has not tried to play a piece, at the requested tempo, it is not easy to guess the technical difficulty. I found the Variations Sérieuses beautifully pianistic and ergonomic... I guess Mendelssohn composed at the piano, didn't he ?
     
  17. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Francois,

    I would guess that Mendelssohn, being a pianist, probably composed piano compositions at the piano, similar to Chopin, Liszt, Schumann and Brahms all of whom were also pianists. Schumann was probably the least proficient at the piano, even more so after his hand injury. Brahms was actually a fine pianist in his younger days, but when he reached middle age and beyond, he didn't practice much, so his playing became sloppy. Wrong notes didn't bother him at all. He'd say that people knew the correct notes in his pieces, so it didn't really matter if he missed or played wrong notes. (Hey, I wonder if I could get away with that here at PS? :lol: )

    David
     
  18. Francois de Larrard

    Francois de Larrard Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    I'm sure that any submission, even full of wrong notes, by Mr. Brahms will be more than welcome :D !
     
  19. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Francois,

    The link below is to the only extant recording of Brahms' voice along with a piano arrangement he plays in 1899 at the inception of recording equipment. It plays twice--the first time is the original quality while the second has been enhanced a bit.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZXL3I7GPCY

    Maybe one of the German speakers here can translate what Brahms is saying (easier to tell in the second version). Hopefully he's not cursing. :lol:

    David
     
  20. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    If it's the Edison cylinder from November, 1889, it is as follows: “Grüsse an Herrn Doktor Edison. I am Doktor Brahms … Johannes Brahms.” Then comes an abbreviated Hungarian Dance No 1, in G Minor. This was published on a vinyl record called “Landmarks of Recorded Pianism” Volume 1, in 1977 by the International Piano Archives. <now I’ll go check to see if we’re talking about the same thing> :D Yep. It's the same.
     

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