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#1967800 - 10/02/12 03:10 PM Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces
alex s Offline
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Registered: 10/12/06
Posts: 39
Loc: san antonio
I've played piano for many years, but one of the crucial components I have lacked is the ability to discern a good interpretation vs bad interpretation, with technical aspects put aside. I know that some interpretations may not be inherently good or poor, just different. However, are there any universal examples out there that anyone would like to point out between two pianists that would considered excellent vs poor with excellent technique? If anyone points out works, I would obviously ask a personal opinion on performers who are no longer playing (deceased) as I wouldn't want to offend anyone!

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#1967815 - 10/02/12 03:50 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
Mark_C Offline
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Registered: 11/11/09
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Loc: New York
I think it would be hard to do exactly what you're saying (although I'm sure people could give examples), because interpretation is so subjective and arguable, and I think you're leaving out a different and more basic thing: musicality. Sure, these things overlap and there are large gray areas where we'd have to argue which it is, but...."musicality" as opposed to interpretation involves things like ability to shape phrases and melodies (as opposed to choices about how to do it), rhythmic control and flexibility (ditto), ability and range in balancing the hands and balancing the notes of a chord, and dynamic range. (I actually include a lot of these things under "technique" but I think most people don't.)

Do you want to expand it to include just plain musicality, or is the more complex thing of interpretation really what you're going after?

The reason I'm able to break it down like this is that for a long time, I didn't have any sense of these things about "musicality" (not consciously at least) and didn't really know what I was listening for in comparing different performances -- and it had little or nothing to do with more sophisticated things like interpretation.

P.S. I can imagine that some people might feel like saying, "Why don't you just answer Alex's question." ha
But I think this thread is a great example of how sometimes a question really begs for a different kind of input.

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#1967827 - 10/02/12 04:16 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
bennevis Online   content
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Interpretation is inherently subjective. Read concert reviews in newspapers or on websites, or CD reviews in magazines, and you´ll see what I mean. Once you get past the technical aspect of the playing (which should be objective but even that is open to interpretation...), it becomes a matter of personal preferences, what and how you have been taught as a pianist and how you play yourself, etc, etc. There are a few reviewers I trust, or believe more than others. And there are some that I frequently wonder if they actually attended the concert they purport to review.

But if you want my personal opinion on what I´d consider a universal example of a terrible interpretation played with great technical accomplishment, look no further than Glenn Gould´s playing of Mozart. For excellent interpretations of Mozart, also with (at least) as good a technique, there´re plenty of contenders, from Uchida to Barenboim to Brautigam to....
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#1967828 - 10/02/12 04:17 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: Mark_C]
alex s Offline
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Registered: 10/12/06
Posts: 39
Loc: san antonio
Mark that's a good explanation of what I am after. In my context of the question, Interpretation = musicality. So, as an example, why are the Rubinstein recordings of Chopin considered to be a paragon of excellence as opposed to some amateur who plays them technically correct? I'd like to get an idea of my head what makes this so in many musical aspects, like phrasing or tempo or other dynamics. There is a degree of subjectivity here, like in all art. However, I keep hearing Rubinstein's recordings are so great and I would like to know why that is so, by example. I suppose I could start by listening to Rubinstein and then another performer right after.

If I heard 5 performers of Chopin who play the same piece with technical prowess, I want to ultimately decide on my own which one I like better. I know it may not be suitable to break it down scientifically and I have to listen to my heart, which is why some examples would be good to hear and choose for myself.

Tough question I know, but I am just wanting some suggestions to have a more discerning ear. smile

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#1967840 - 10/02/12 04:36 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
Mark_C Offline
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How about I'll just get started on that, since there's so much to be said.....

The first thing I think we can say about Rubinstein is simply his SOUND -- the way he judges the capability of a piano and realizes what's the range of how soft or how hard you can hit the keys and still have the sound be beautiful (or joyous or glorious, whatever he was aiming for at the moment), and how to balance the hands and balance the notes of a chord.

And that's only about playing single notes or chords. It doesn't even get into shaping a phrase or melody, or anything else about playing the piano. But just that aspect was (IMO) a very significant and powerful thing about Rubinstein's playing, and perhaps the main single thing.

OK, what else.... smile

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#1967841 - 10/02/12 04:39 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
pianoloverus Online   content
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One way to learn a lot about musicality is to listen to the great pianists and try to analyze what they're doing. If you think, taking out the technical part as best as you can, their playing sounds better than your own or some amateur's playing or another profesional's playing, try and figure out the difference. Of course, a teacher can be very helpful here because figuring out anything very complicated by oneself is very difficult.

One example from my own experience. I was learning Keith Jarrett's incredible version of Be My Love:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iENQgr0l2Qw

Well, of course, his playing sounded more beautiful than mine even though we were playing the same notes. He is, for at least me, the greatest player of ballads in jazz history. As I listened carefully I noticed that he played the opening few notes of almost every phrase louder than I was. And now I sound as good as Jarrett...not really, but at least for this piece, I like the way it sounds better and I have one idea that might apply to numerous pieces.

A few days later in a classical piano master class at Mannes the teacher, Alexander Braginsky, was telling the student how there is some phrase common in Russia about(paraphrasing here)"Making sure to begin a piece." Basically, the same thing I noticed about Jarrett's playing.


Edited by pianoloverus (10/02/12 04:42 PM)

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#1967858 - 10/02/12 05:08 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
bennevis Online   content
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Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5158
Originally Posted By: alex s
However, I keep hearing Rubinstein's recordings are so great and I would like to know why that is so, by example. I suppose I could start by listening to Rubinstein and then another performer right after.

If I heard 5 performers of Chopin who play the same piece with technical prowess, I want to ultimately decide on my own which one I like better. I know it may not be suitable to break it down scientifically and I have to listen to my heart, which is why some examples would be good to hear and choose for myself.

Tough question I know, but I am just wanting some suggestions to have a more discerning ear. smile


As you mentioned Rubinstein (who, if truth be told, isn´t my favorite Chopin interpretator, except for some of the Mazurkas), why not listen to his playing of Chopin´s Ballade No.1, followed by Michelangeli, followed by Pollini, followed by Perahia, followed by Zimerman. Five well-known, even great pianists of great technical accomplishment, but very different interpretations. (Add Horowitz if you want....). See which one you like best, then work out why for yourself.

Far better to do it this way then to have someone tell you why they prefer so-and-so over another so-and-so.....
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#1967885 - 10/02/12 06:30 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13792
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Here's an example:

I don't agree with this interpretation (though the execution is flawless!)

http://youtu.be/Wpyjl-l43vY

I far prefer this interpretation.

http://youtu.be/QVPrXHcM9Ac
_________________________
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#1967914 - 10/02/12 07:18 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19369
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: alex s
Tough question I know, but I am just wanting some suggestions to have a more discerning ear. smile
A discerning ear involves a lifetime of listening and playing. The more you understand about music the better you'll be equipped to hear differences and decide which you prefer and why. Some things are fairly objective(most excellent pianists would agree on) and others are more subjective.

To study music you can:

1. take lessons
2. read/study by yourself
3. listen by yourself or with others to compare ideas

The great thing about the computer age is that it's so much easier to do #2 and #3. When I was growing up I had around 10 classical records. Now my "collection" is infinite.

Your question is a good one, but incredibly broad.


Edited by pianoloverus (10/02/12 07:21 PM)

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#1967921 - 10/02/12 07:37 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13792
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Having a discerning ear isn't about being able to tell good from bad. It's about being able to distinguish between the different choices performers make. Tempo, rhythmic placement, tone, articulation, pedal, voicing, etc...

In other words, a discerning ear is descriptive, not evaluative.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1967934 - 10/02/12 08:12 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
Damon Online   happy
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Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 6149
Loc: St. Louis area
Good:



Whatever:



Edited by Damon (10/02/12 08:13 PM)
Edit Reason: I think that should be opus 30.
_________________________
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#1967989 - 10/02/12 10:19 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
Fugue14 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/13/09
Posts: 201
Not so great...



Quite a bit better...


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#1967991 - 10/02/12 10:25 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: Kreisler]
argerichfan Offline
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Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8890
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Having a discerning ear isn't about being able to tell good from bad. It's about being able to distinguish between the different choices performers make. Tempo, rhythmic placement, tone, articulation, pedal, voicing, etc...

Which would be descriptive at first, but then evaluative eventually I should think?

Isn't that how jury members at a competition choose a winner? I can compare my recording of Liszt's 1st TE with, say, Arrau's, and identify all the differences (descriptive), and therefore make an evaluation as to who is the far greater pianist. (Slight understatement. wink )

I am sure you are making a point, Kreisler, though I am not certain I am understanding it.
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#1967993 - 10/02/12 10:28 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: argerichfan]
Mark_C Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19786
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
....I am sure you are making a point, Kreisler, though I am not certain I am understanding it.

Heck, I disagree with it! grin

IMO it's clearly both -- "evaluative" as well as "descriptive."

Although of course it might depend on exactly what one means by "ear."
And "discerning."

I'm ready for my 'fans' to get on my case about stupid distinctions about words. ha
But what else is this particular thing about, if not distinctions about words....Kreisler must be thinking some particular meanings of them that aren't obvious, or else Jason and I would be getting it.

I'm guessing he's not including anything about "brain" within "ear."
I don't separate them so totally.
And I'm guessing that Alex wasn't either -- which in this case should rule, because whatever he meant by it is what we're trying to talk about.

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#1968051 - 10/03/12 12:09 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
Derulux Offline
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Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5321
Loc: Philadelphia
I'll let Kreisler speak for himself, but I very much agree with what he said (if for completely different reasons). Saying "that sucked" (evaluative) is not the same thing as being able to articulate exactly what you heard (descriptive) that caused your evaluative position. Evaluation comes from interpreting what you hear, and is not a part of the hearing itself.

Then, of course, there is the idea of good/bad being entirely subjective and unique to the individual experiencing the art, and that art itself cannot be either good or bad but only pleasing or displeasing to the participant(s) in that art (whether active/performer or passive/listener-viewer).
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#1968064 - 10/03/12 12:39 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: Derulux]
Mark_C Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
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....but you're forgetting that Alex was the one who said "discerning ear" -- so it's whatever Alex meant!

If I said the phrase, I'd be including a lot more than you and Kreisler are thinking -- and I'd guess Alex did too.

When people use words to describe something and we try to address it, the issue is whatever they meant. (Right?) Their words were just a means to the end. If we ourselves think of those words differently, that's fine -- but it's a different discussion.

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#1968112 - 10/03/12 06:13 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: Kreisler]
wr Offline
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Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7863
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Having a discerning ear isn't about being able to tell good from bad. It's about being able to distinguish between the different choices performers make. Tempo, rhythmic placement, tone, articulation, pedal, voicing, etc...

In other words, a discerning ear is descriptive, not evaluative.


Why?

I mean, I don't see any reason why discernment can't apply to artistic quality, i.e., good and bad, as well as to the sort of things you mention.

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#1968120 - 10/03/12 07:08 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
bennevis Online   content
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Maybe I can try to put into words the differences between interpretations, and how a novice can go about analyzing others´ performances.

First of all, there´s fidelity to the score: the notes, then the dynamics, the metronome marking (if any), the articulation, the pedalling. Then there´s the pianist´s response to those markings: does he take off like a rocket as soon as he sees an accelerando, or even poco a poco ..., or slow down to half speed as soon as he sees a ritardando, even if that brings the music almost to a halt? (Pogorelich does that quite often). Is his allegro more like andante or presto? And how impetuous is he? Many pianists play slightly faster or even accelerate in runs (Schnabel is a prime example) which in some cases can sound like he´s lost control. Some accelerate on a whim (e.g. Argerich) which may or may not appeal to you. Does he make unmarked accents, or double up bass octaves to increase the excitement (artificially or otherwise)? How does he play staccato, how detached they are, how often he uses them where the composer doesn´t indicate them, does he pedal through some of them? How does he use the pedal(s), and does he give the impression that he´s thought about their use or does it sound generic? Some pianists sound ´cleaner´ than others not just because they articulate the notes more cleanly but because they use ´finger legato´ rather than the sustain pedal whenever they can.

Great pianists also have an acute sense of ryhthm that goes far beyond the written notes. Mikhail Pletnev for instance is known for his frequently elastic rhythm that transcends the barlines, but listen to his playing of the Funeral March in Chopin´s eponymous Sonata and hear how he almost - but not quite - double dots the rhythm, giving the March an extra sense of inexorable thread and dread...

Then there´s the tone color - how well-differentiated is the melody from the accompaniment, how does he voice, how much stronger are the top notes in chords, how much does he stress the bass notes to give a feeling of solidity without heaviness or opaqueness, how he balances chords etc from top to bottom, and how well he controls this balancing act - is he consistent, and if he isn´t, is it because his technique isn´t quite up to it? In a piece that has a melody over accompaniment (e.g. Schubert´s Impromptu in G flat, D899/3) where, if the pianist plays very softly almost throughout with the melody just barely riding above the accompaniment, can convey innigkeit or fragilité (excuse the foreign interpolations grin), or just plain affected, depending on the listener´s perception - for instance, listen to David Fray´s performance of that piece. Personally I find it very affecting when I´m in the mood. And obviously that requires a lot of keyboard control, to play the busy accompaniment so softly and smoothly that the melody remains clear even at ppp.

How does he phrase the melody: is there a strong arch to the melodic strand, with a definite high point, like a singer would sing; is there a bel canto feeling to his phrasing? And does he bring out hidden inner melodic strands, implied or otherwise (Katsaris is fond of finding these out...), and how does he bring them out in relation to the main melody?

And how does he relate the different tempi (within and between movements if any) to each other; does he make everything sound very logical, as if it could only be this way, the composer´s way, when you´re listening to him? (In my experience, Pollini does this best).

And how does his rubato sound to you: is it convincing, or excessive, or out of place/out of period, or seems ´externally applied´? And his use/misuse of agogic hesitations - do they sound halting, as if he´s checking the next (series of) notes or chords before hitting them rather than as an expressive device?

And finally, does his playing sound convincing to you?
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#1968373 - 10/03/12 06:55 PM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: wr]
ChopinAddict Offline
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Registered: 08/29/09
Posts: 6101
Loc: Land of the never-ending music
Originally Posted By: wr
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Having a discerning ear isn't about being able to tell good from bad. It's about being able to distinguish between the different choices performers make. Tempo, rhythmic placement, tone, articulation, pedal, voicing, etc...

In other words, a discerning ear is descriptive, not evaluative.


Why?

I mean, I don't see any reason why discernment can't apply to artistic quality, i.e., good and bad, as well as to the sort of things you mention.



I don't know... This is the first thought that comes to my mind right now. First you discern (distinguish between choices etc.), then you evaluate if those choices were appropriate/good or not? I think the two are usually very close because it is difficult not to evaluate after discerning. Just MHO. shocked
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Music is my best friend.


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#1968553 - 10/04/12 05:37 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: alex s]
babama Offline
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Registered: 02/15/08
Posts: 800
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great:


poor:


Edited by babama (10/04/12 05:37 AM)

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#1968584 - 10/04/12 09:02 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: babama]
ScriabinAddict Offline
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Registered: 06/10/12
Posts: 335
Originally Posted By: babama
great:


poor:


Actually, the second one is closer to the actual indication. So technically Richter's would be the poor one.

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#1968595 - 10/04/12 09:33 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: ScriabinAddict]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Originally Posted By: ScriabinAddict
Actually, the second one is closer to the actual indication. So technically Richter's would be the poor one.
Only if one thinks that closeness to the score indications is the most critical criterion in evaluating an interpretation.

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#1969036 - 10/05/12 09:51 AM Re: Example(s) of great and poor interpretations of pieces [Re: pianoloverus]
Ridicolosamente Offline
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Registered: 07/08/08
Posts: 1467
Loc: Miami, Florida, USA
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: ScriabinAddict
Actually, the second one is closer to the actual indication. So technically Richter's would be the poor one.
Only if one thinks that closeness to the score indications is the most critical criterion in evaluating an interpretation.
Yes of course (when convenient smile )
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