Virtuosity and Musicianship

As I have become more involved with simply interpreting the music, rather than “showing off” such technical skill as I am lucky to have, my tastes in piano playing have changed somewhat. I am now more attracted by pianists that make less of a show of their virtuosity, and put more into understanding the essence of the music.

Amongst recently deceased pianists that means such relatively unknown artists as Dinorah Varsi, who here gives the definitive performance of Scriabin’s best known work: Scriabin Etude Op. 8 No. 12

But delving further into the past I have discovered Ignaz Friedman. Such a shame that he died over 60 years ago 😦 . Here he plays Three of Mendelssohn’s songs without words in a deceptively unaffected and straightforward manner, although, as this Chopin etude in thirds shows, he had incredible virtuosity – but of an undemonstrative sort, that makes the horribly difficult sound relaxed and easy. He can even fool us into believing that pleasant – but second rate – compositions like this Famous Rondo by Hummel are masterpieces. So when he plays a genuine masterpiece, it is stunning: Chopin Ballade No. 3

Neither the hiss of the old recording nor the slightly distorted piano sound detract from his immaculate tempo, touch and phrasing.

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