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Re: landowska

At 06:46 PM 8/2/2000 -0700, Jim Morrison wrote:
Hi Fminor

Someone off list recently wrote to me saying that one of the special things
about Landowska's playing is that there's "never a dull moment" in it.  And
from what I can tell, that's true.  She sure does grap your attention and
say, "Listen to this music that I love.  I can't wait to show it to you."  A
bit like early Gould that way.

Well characterized!

And there is something special about that.
And I'll have to give her and her Pleyel a more charitable hearing.

I didn't know that her huge harpsichord had to be miked very closely because
the volume was so low on the thing.  You think they would have put a knob on
the thing to let her control that feature.

Back when those Pleyels were built, there was evidently a belief that the latest technology was necessarily the best. And Pleyel was primarily a piano manufacturer. So, they took the heavily reinforced frames, thick strings, and heavy tension into their harpsichords. Then they had to use leather plectra, since quill doesn't work well on those strings. The rigidity of the frame and the reinforcement of the soundboard pretty much killed the resonance. The action and keydip were also modeled on the feel of their modern pianos. And Landowska used piano technique (especially, super-legato piano fingerings) as it's the only thing that really works on such a leathered hybrid. She typically played divided recitals and concerts: part on Pleyel, part on modern piano. (See Palmer's book which I mentioned yesterday.)

Those big old Pleyels are *quieter* than 17th/18th century harpsichords and
their reproductions.  They only sound like tanks because of the miking, and
because of Landowska's frequent use of the 16-foot stop to give some
grandeur to the sound.

Here are some especially good references about that surprising quietness,
from the HPSCHD-L archives:


Despite her use of a bizarre instrument and piano technique, her
performances are (in my opinion) grippingly musical.  Really dramatic and
committed.  She was also a good pianist, by the way.

>I will definitely have to check out more of Landowska. I think my
>introduction to her, the Italian Concerto, was not the place to start.
>Extreme use of registration and a bad sounding recording on a harpsichord
>that really clangs when she hits the chords in the concerto.
>On the other hand, Roselyn Tureck has, to my ears, a wonderful way with the
>IC, esp the slow inner movement.
>But no one that I've heard has Gould's exuberance in the final presto. I
>love the way he plays that movement. It's also on video, in the On The
>Record section of Two Portraits. There's an awkwardness, as Gould says, to
>this movement, that he's somehow about to perform more smoothly than others.
>"I think this is it," Gould says of his recording. "Extremly good." And
>he's right.

Agreed that the 1959 GG is very well done.  Wonderful!  His 1952 CBC
broadcast version is also worth hearing.  The 1981 has good sound but the
interpretation is, uh, unsatisfactory.

And agreed on Tureck's playing of the slow movement (the 1979 one, Sony
Essential Classics).

Andrew Appel played it gorgeously on harpsichord on a 1987 CD (Bridge
9005): a nicely vocal flexibility in the melodic line.  Just the right
balance of nobility and fragility, straightforwardness and freedom...it
really sings!

Some other notably exuberant recordings of the final presto are Kipnis,
Malcolm, and Rousset on various types of harpsichords, and Don Dorsey on
synthesizer (!) on "BachBusters."

Yes, that final presto is awkward.  There are some sudden hand shifts that
can hardly be played at the tempos most people like to take in this
movement.  Plus there are changes of manuals (marked by Bach) at some of
those places.  Tricky stuff, and nearly impossible to play in strict tempo
(not that that's necessarily a high goal).  Pianists of course don't have
the manual changes to deal with, and there are undoubtedly some (though
perhaps not GG) who use pedal to disguise the awkward spots.

Bradley Lehman Dayton VA http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl