Classical Music Guide - Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - Written by Donald Isler

David Dubal Lecture - Great Performances

Pianist, author and radio personality David Dubal believes that America is a great country but that no one is interested in art anymore; that we are in need of “artistic evangelism.” He also says that pianists are his favorite people.

In a lecture of almost two hours he played many examples of great performances, told many stories, and expressed more than few provocative opinions. One was never bored. Below is a description of some of what we heard.

The first pieces we heard were the Preludio and the Second Etude from Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, brilliantly played by Jerome Rose.

There were several performances of Rachmaninoff and Hofmann. Nobody but nobody has fingers that can play like them today, said Mr. Dubal, adding that Horowitz told him “I don’t know what kind of a tree I would be, if I were a tree, but Rachmaninoff is a REDWOOD!”

We heard both Rachmaninoff and Hofmann play Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song. The tempi were similar but Rachmaninoff’s performance was patrician, with that slightly odd pause before the return of the main theme, whereas Hofmann’s was more quirky, bringing out interesting voicing and accents.

David Dubal maintains that one could write a book about how Rachmaninoff plays the Chopin C-Sharp Minor Waltz. This performance, which lacked nothing, included a marvelous bringing out of an inner voice in the thumb, the ultimate in grace and precision, plenty of rubato, though never too much, and the right expression and feeling in each section. Indeed, Rachmaninoff didn’t play it in a “straightjacket,” as happens too often today, said Mr. Dubal.

Jerome Rose asked Mr. Dubal how Chopin might have played this work. Mr. Dubal replied that a Chopin performance would have been very soft, brought out more voices, and would have included a lot of pedaling.

Before a dizzying version of Chopin’s Minute Waltz by Hofmann, we heard Clara Schumann’s student, Fanny Davies, give a slow, throbbing and quite deep account of the second piece of Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze.

Next, came the classic performance of Paderewski playing his G Major Minuet, courtly and dignified in the main theme, surging and powerful elsewhere.

Mr. Dubal contrasted the performances of Chopin’s Etude in Thirds by Lhevinne and Friedman, and also played for us the alternately quivering and blazing Liszt transcription of Schumann’s Frühlingsnacht. The sound on the Friedman recording was not very good at all, typical of many Friedman recordings. One wonders what someone with the ear and expertise of Jon Samuels or Allan Evans could do to improve it?

We heard Benno Moiseiwitsch (who Mr. Dubal claimed was Al Capone’s favorite pianist!) play Liszt’s la Leggierezza (using the Leschetizky coda, not the less elaborate original coda) with apparent effortlessness and incredible fleetness.

“Rhythm is respiration” according to Mr. Dubal. There followed a magical performance of Cortot playing his own transcription of the famous Brahms A-Flat Lullaby. Indeed, no one personifies the idea of rhythm as respiration better than Cortot, who was incapable of playing prosaically.

We listened to a recorded interview of David Dubal talking with Horowitz about Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, both of whom he met. Horowitz said that Rachmaninoff accompanied Horowitz on the second piano of Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto. (What one would give to hear that accompaniment!) And we heard Horowitz playing Rachmaninoff’s G Major Prelude, making of it a miniature, but very dramatic tale.

Horowitz played for Scriabin when he was 11 or 12 years old, just a few hours before Scriabin was to give a major recital, and the poor man was very nervous, in anticipation. According to Horowitz, after hearing the audition, Scriabin told Horowitz’s mother that her son would become a great pianist, but that he should also be a well-educated, and cultured man. Mr. Dubal pointed out that Horowitz later did a lot for Scriabin’s music, having played five of his sonatas, and other works. Horowitz did not disagree. We heard Horowitz’s recording of the C-Sharp Minor Etude of Scriabin, Op. 42, No. 5 in a reading that was wondrously expressive and passionate.

The program concluded with something I had never heard before, Scriabin’s own playing, in a 1911 Welte-Mignon recording, of his D-Sharp Minor Etude, which we know well from the playing of Horowitz, and other virtuosos. Though I am always suspicious of how accurately Welte-Mignon recordings represent pianists, having heard my teacher, Bruce Hungerford, say that such of a recording of his teacher, Ignaz Friedman, sounded not a bit like Friedman, Mr. Dubal believes this is a fairly good representation of Scriabin’s playing. Mr. Dubal thinks it’s even better than Horowitz’s famous interpretations. Most of it is slower than Horowitz plays it, though it ends powerfully, but better? I’m not sure I agree, and have to think some more about that.

But isn’t that the point of Mr. Dubal’s always interesting lectures? To present new performances and ideas to his audience, and get them thinking?

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