Hello Internet readers, While carrying on a conversation between
John Tuttle (who asked for my opinion of the Telarc CD which features
a brittle-sounding Boesendorfer playing MIDI transcription of
'Rachmaninoff' Ampico rolls), I received the following text from a
pianist, who has extensive knowledge of player actions as well.
The writer is Edward Russell, a retired piano technician in Upstate
New York. He's not on-line but had a friend in the area send the
Rachmaninoff text to me. Thought MMD readers would enjoy reading this
text, so am submitting it today.
Regards from Maine,
Artcraft Music Rolls
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A musician's opinion of the Stahnke-'Rachmaninoff' CD
The recording is a collection of Rachmaninoff and Stahnke "duets".
The Ampico rolls were used as a "base" and the old Victor audio
recordings were then used as an interpretive augmenting device. The
approach (attitude) by the sponsor of this CD was that the reason the
pneumatic roll recordings were played slower was because the player
piano (Ampico) could not keep up with the nimbleness or attack of live
piano playing. The disc recordings were more accurate because they
prove that the artists actually WANTED to play the pieces faster than
they did on the rolls. All of that talk about the disc recordings being
faster because of time limitations was not true.
Fortunately for those interested in accuracy and fact, there are
innumerable instances of extant written biographies and histories of
artists and phonographs leaving NO DOUBT that disc-recorded selections
were literally butchered and truncated and often played at absurd
speeds to fit them on a 10" or 12" record. _That is fact._
At a major piano company in the USA, the research and development
department has the Rachmaninoff "G-Minor Prelude" on the wall as an
example. After much testing, they scientifically proved that the
repeated notes in the Ampico recording were at the limit of _any
piano action_, _not_ the player action. The player action could
actually play _faster_ than the piano action. _Any_ piano action.
Since the rolls were not correct, the CD sponsor decided to speed up
the "G-Minor Prelude" and (if you listen to it) it is insanely (not to
mention, un-musically) fast. To the point of being pianistically out of
control. In the beautiful and legato middle section, it is then slowed
down to the point of almost normal. Why is this? Well, simple. The
crazy speed of the octave and repeated chord sections at the beginning
and end can be played in a ballistic manner and "come off". However,
the middle section would sound nothing short of amatuerish if played at
the same maniacal speed one would expect after hearing the opening!
Sounds like some Victor shellac to me!
Finally, the point here is, that the CD recording, although pleasant
and even exhilarating to some purchasers with piano ears of 1998 and
not 1928, is neither Rachmaninoff, nor Ampico, nor Victor. It is
nothing more than a bastard at a family reunion.