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MMD > Archives > October 1998 > 1998.10.31 > 11Prev  Next

Rachmaninoff Ampico Performances on Telarc CD
By Douglas Henderson

Hello John and the MMD readers,  I have heard the CD of questionable
'Rachmaninoff' performances (MIDI transcriptions of Ampico rolls) and
also heard the NPR [National Public Radio] interview with Wayne Stahnke
(with extracts of the same CD), and sampled some of the audio clips on
the Internet.

I don't like the _sound_ of the Boesendorfer, knowing what the sonority
usually is, both in live performance and on good audio recordings.  In
fact, I have some LP's and tapes-from-CD's of a Boesendorfer Imperial
SE --  recorded at a college in Mass. -- which present "Pictures At An
Exhibition" and other major works on the computer player action.

The Boesendorfer has a warm, full and rich sound, but always "delivers
more volume" just when one thinks that the limit has been reached.  It
is not raspy and muddy as what I've heard on the Telarc edition.

Musical tone is a matter of personal aesthetics, so I'm just saying
what I experienced regarding these 'Rachmaninoff' performances.

I never sought Mr. Russell's advice and I didn't write the posting.
In fact, it was submitted because I thought that the MMD readers might
like yet another opinion.

To me, the accents on the CD recordings sound _nothing_ like the Ampico
rolls, which I know very well.  The entire piano seems to go loud-soft
in a spasmodic way, something like a foot on the accelerator pedal of
an automobile.  I don't hear the 'floating' effect one associates with
a pneumatic player here.  Also, I don't hear the keyboard attack or the
"performance" of what appears on the brief Edison series or the many
RCA-Victor discs of later vintage.

What really troubles me, as a roll arranger, is that the _musical
information_ on slow-moving perforated paper rolls is _so much less_
than one can glean from an analysis of audio recordings.  This is due
to the design of the pneumatic player instrument and also the formula
methods used for cutting music rolls -- recognizable from factory-to-

Going from a roll to audio is like going from Morse Code (or a
telegram) to a stage scene with Olivier.

I have always worked the 'informative' way since the early 'Fifties --
that is, going from audio to a roll (using a 'concept' to circumvent
the myriad differences in a recorded vs. arranged music medium).

As for "trusting"...  I never cited the 78's as being distortions of
his keyboard performances.  (Mr. Russell did, on his own.)  For me,
the final roll under the Artcraft label, is "what I hear" translated
into perforations, an artisan's _impression_ and nothing more.  This
is why my rolls are called "Interpretive Arrangements" and are never
palmed-off as a re-creation of 'lost performances', or 'The Ghost of
Gershwin' in the lowest slogan used for this "Industry of Music Roll

As for me, I'll continue to play my MHS tapes of the old Victor
recordings, which I used to play regularly at our museum (The Musical
Wonder House) on Orthophonic and Viva-Tonal gramophones.

Most of the Ampico rolls of Rachmaninoff's music are too lackluster
for me, when compared to the old audio sources.

As for the Telarc CD, I gave my copy away, just as I did with the
Nimbus CD (a gift from the Musical Heritage Society) and several others
of this ilk.  I have so _many_ recordings (now on cassette) of
Rachmaninoff's music, especially by Vladimir Ashkenazy, that I play
these when seeking performance enjoyment.  In fact, the 78 rpm set,
featuring Artur Rubinstein performing the "2nd Piano Concerto" (which
I purchased in the mid-'Forties) is still played by me _more_ than any
other version (on Cassettes today, however, dubbed from my slightly-
later red vinyl Red Seal 45's).

The fact is, I just don't like the new CD by Telarc and prefer to
listen to a variety of Rachmaninoff performances by more recent artists
on audio -- beyond the composer on his own recordings, which I also
enjoy.  Hope the above clarifies the Henderson viewpoint!

Regards from Maine,

Douglas Henderson
Artcraft Music Rolls
Wiscasset, ME 04578

(Message sent Sat 31 Oct 1998, 22:41:09 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Ampico, CD, Performances, Rachmaninoff, Telarc

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