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Rachmaninov, Prelude Op. 23, No. 10 in G flat

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by Rachfan, Dec 14, 2012.

  1. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Rachmaninov’s Prelude No. 10 in G flat is a lesser known prelude from Op. 23. The piece is a tearful one built on a sigh motif that often erases the bar lines for the listener. For these preludes most pianists try to guess Rachmaninov’s programs. (Moisewitch once discussed with Rachmaninov the program for Op. 32, No. 10 in Bm, so we know they exist.) For me this piece at hand is a sorrowful, parting farewell. Perhaps it is in a time of war when a young soldier is about to depart on a train headed for the front. His distraught fiancée is inconsolable. In the run up to the coda, the couple shares a too fleeting moment of splendor before the soldier boards the train. The music ends in a G flat cadence played forte suggesting a bright ray of hope. For me, this is a piece to be played from the inside out, not from the outside in.

    Although it’s a short piece, it cannot be underestimated. Much of the singing melody is in the left hand. But there are intricate duets present too. So the pianist must continuously distinguish foreground from background. Also the piece requires much attention to voice leading and melodic voicing of chords which contribute to the long line. This prelude has two climaxes, or “crucial points” as Rachmaninov called them, contrary to conventional advice given to young composers at the conservatories. Personally I don’t believe that this weakens the structure at all. In fact, Op. 23, No. 6 likewise has two climaxes and seemingly to good overall effect.

    The most difficult technical challenge comes in the last quarter of the piece nearing the coda. The ecstatic rolls in the right hand are huge and difficult to execute at tempo even with forearm rotation. For anyone who would play this piece, I urge caution while practicing this particular section.

    I hope you’ll enjoy hearing this piece.

    Comments welcome.

    Piano: Baldwin Model L Artist Grand (6’3”) with lid fully open
    Recorder: Korg MR-1000
    Microphones: Earthworks TC-20 matched pair of small diaphragm omni-directional condenser mics in A-B configuration

    David

    Rachmaninov - Prelude in G flat Major, Op. 23, No. 10
     
  2. pianoman342

    pianoman342 Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi David,

    Rachfan plays Rachmaninov! I had a listen to your recording, I haven’t heard it before. I enjoyed it, your flowing style of playing felt quite appropriate to match the music. I also like your narrative, I could imagine it while hearing the piece, Rachmaninoff could have intended it. For criticism, (and I can’t say this authoritatively, not having a copy of the score) I thought the plagal cadence at the end could use more shaping, the last chord, the two chords seemed to both be ff, whereas most prelude endings (except if marked xx con fuoco :)) the convention is that the music should fade out. It sounds like some of this piece is practically an etude, so I think you have done a great job given the challenges! Enjoyed your performance.
     
  3. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Riley,

    Thanks for listening to the prelude. Glad you enjoyed it.

    On the cadence, I didn't intentionally play it extra loud by leaning into it or applying more force. I simply gave it relaxed arm weight. Of course the Baldwin isn't a timid instrument either. I found some versions on YouTube louder than mine actually. As I think about it, the cadence is really a forte version of the sigh motif that occurs throughout the piece. For such a sad piece, it surprises me that Rachmaninov didn't write it in minor mode. Leave it to him to write about sadness in major mode and make it completely convincing too!

    A very astute observation. I've long believed that ALL of Rachmaninov's preludes are actually smaller etudes. It explains why none of them are easy to play. This one, despite its brevity, has a lot of teaching points in my opinion.

    I appreciate your listening and commenting!

    David
     
  4. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi David,

    This is on the site. Kind of a strange little piece, but thank you for sharing; I have not heard this one before. Your playing sounded nice too.
    Just an fyi - it's in G-flat major, not G-flat minor like what your tags showed. (I corrected it)
     
  5. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Monica,

    Thanks for putting it up and changing the minor to major--a slip of the "pen" I'm afraid. I think this piece takes more than one hearing. It does grow on one.

    Thanks again.

    David
     
  6. andrew

    andrew Member Piano Society Artist

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    Melancholy in a major key!

    Oddly, I felt the troughs were the most affecting parts of the piece and not the climaxes. The last half-minute with the rolled chords sounds tricky: nicely handled. I felt the last two chords were at an appropriate volume - waking from a dream perhaps, but not by being hit over the head!
     
  7. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Andrew,

    Yes, leave it to Rachmaninov to compose a very sad mood in a major key and succeed with it! He was a genius.

    I think that Rachmaninov was certainly quite aware of his two "crucial points", but was determined to keep both because they work so well, but also gave much attention to bringing out the lyricism in the "troughs" to provide a good offset and to ensure balance.

    I must say it wasn't easy practicing the big rolls in the right hand. I was determined to get all the notes to sound without compromising the tempo, and all the while doing everything I could to project the great beauty of that moment as well. Too much practicing of that section can lead to an injury. Rachmaninov, of course, had very large hands, so 1) he was probably unaware of the difficulty and 2) he would not have cared, as every piece he wrote was for himself, not for other pianists! I'm a mere mortal so had to work carefully to attain the result I wanted.

    Regarding that cadence, it's true that most people would probably expect to hear a soft, fading sound there. But it's not even written mp, but actually f. I think that Rachmaninov wanted more of a jolt there to break the spell, like as you say, waking up from a dream.

    Thanks for listening.

    David
     
  8. musicusblau

    musicusblau Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi David,
    sorry for my quite late return. You have done a great job here. Your playing seemed nuanced with some good voice leading. This prelude is an arabesque-like piece, so as you have mentioned in your entry (it´s nice, that you always write so detailed introductions, by the way!), it is quite demanding and complex. This complexity you master very well. Also dynamics and rubati - especially the poco a poco accel. in the middle section - are done nicely. You bring out that climax of the piece, which is a main part of its structure, very convincingly. So it thoroughly was a joy to listen to your interpretation.
    With best regards
    Andreas
     
  9. luissarro

    luissarro New Member

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    hi, David!

    that's a pretty good performance!
    it starts in a more direct way (quite different from the timid way I'm used to listen to), but it surprised in a very good way in the middle to the end.
     
  10. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Luis,

    I'm happy that you liked this performance of the prelude. The last time I recorded it was around 1985. What I wanted to accomplish this time was to really differentiate the foreground from the background. And at the climax I wanted to play the right notes, ha-ha! Well, I think I succeeded in both goals. Thanks for listening and commenting.

    David
     
  11. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Andreas,

    Late comments are far better than none, so I really appreciate your taking time to listen to this beautiful prelude. And thanks for all your insights too. Yes, there is more to this piece than meets the eye. This recording is quite different from a recording I made in 1985, especially by way of improvements. I'm glad you enjoyed my interpretation, and the techniques you mentioned that I used to bring it about. I paid particular attention to the long melodic line, including the voice leading as you noted. Separating foreground from background also took on great importance for me.

    Several people have commented on my providing program notes with any recording. I guess it's somewhat like the notes on a recital program or "liner" notes in a CD. Many have told me that they appreciate the background information about the composition. So I actually enjoy doing it.

    I think that in Op. 23 almost everyone is familiar with No. 5 and many know No. 4. But it's surprising how many have never heard No. 10! For that reason alone, I was glad to relearn the piece and post it here.

    Thanks again for your kind words!

    Best regards,

    David
     
  12. mwyman1

    mwyman1 New Member

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    David - I just listened to this and enjoyed it very much. I'm gaining more and more appreciation for the Rach Preludes, and plan to record a few myself.

    Thank you for posting. I think it built nicely and I could clearly follow the melody. I agree with others that the piece seems sad and a bit desperate towards the end.

    Great job.

    Matt
     
  13. musical-md

    musical-md Active Member

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    David I just listened to this. What a coincidence that I read it just yesterday. I agree entirely with your assessment too. I REALLY like your performance! I think you did a very fine job of managing the layers and colors (and the large arpeggiated chords). If there is any comment I would make, it would not be a criticism but rather the suggestion that if possible you try to do a little more with the scattered suspensions. This is very hard to voice effectively on a piano, but can be done and appreciated in subdued passages (first part). Bravo sir!
     
  14. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Eddy,

    I'm glad you listened to this recording and enjoyed it so much. It's a short work, but can be treacherous at times too. On the suspensions, they mostly involve the second and third beats. There are pedal changes due to neighboring tones, meaning that fingers holding the ties are better insurance than the pedal. In the right-hand chordal figuration in the background, I voiced the bottom notes with the the thumb of the right hand intended to carry into the ties. The treble and bass phrases happen to overlap there as well. Also in the sigh motif in the foreground, the first note of the figure must be louder than the second note. It is that first note that sounds underneath the ties. So, with all that going on, to be honest I might have let go of the ties sooner than full value without realizing it. Rachmaninoff could make something on a score look simple enough to execute; yet here is a collection of variables that make it more complex. In any future effort, this detail would certainly merit more attention in the playing.

    I really appreciate your enthusiasm for this performance and your kind words and suggestion too!

    Thanks!

    David
     
  15. pianoman342

    pianoman342 Member Piano Society Artist

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    David,

    I had another few listens to your performance. I agree, that after a few listens it grows on the listener. I also had a look at the score. I realize this is the last piece of the Op. 23 set. This gives a whole different meaning to the cadence. I think it is perhaps a clear signal that the show is over. Would be interesting to hear, if a good pianist was to play the entire set in one concert, that would be quite an evening of entertainment! :)
     
  16. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Riley,

    This is actually a replacement recording. Your first response was on 12/13/12 where you commented on the plagal cadence in the coda being too loud. So in the followup recording now posted, using your suggestion I toned down the very last chord in both hands which now better comports with the sigh motif elsewhere in the score. But yes, in your current message, that sign motif also ends not just the prelude, but the entire set.

    I know for sure that Rachmaninoff played the entire Op. 23 set at the Prison Concert charitable event at the Pillar Hall in Moscow. Probably it has been played in it's entirety at other recitals. I wouldn't rule it out. Generally speaking though, artists usually seem in structuring programs to select no more than three of the preludes, all contrasting. If I were a prominent international artist ( :lol: ) my dream would be to play the entire Opp. 23 and 32 Preludes in Moscow's Great Hall and then use the Op. 3, No. 2 (C#m) as the encore! :)

    Thanks for listening again to this music. If you're not familiar with the 10 preludes in Op. 23 and the 13 in Op. 32, do listen to both sets--they are extraordinary! I actually prefer them to the Etudes Tableaux, as I believe these preludes contain more musical content. Others have agreed with me on that point of view.

    Thanks again.

    David
     
  17. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for listening and your nice compliment on my playing. I appreciate it!

    David
     

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