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A Window in Time, Vol.2
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Rachmaninoff performs classic piano works in a spectacular recording made on a Bösendorfer 290SE Reproducing Piano. This remarkable listening experience brings Rachmaninoff's phenomenal pianistic talent to life in today's world. By using unprecedented new techniques of transfer and reproduction, scientist and mathematician Wayne Stahnke has eliminated the mechanical aspects of music roll performances. More astonishingly these advances reveal the subtleties and fine details of Rachmaninoff's playing with startling clarity, showing us why he was regarded as perhaps the greatest pianist of his time. With a pioneering combination of scientific, electronic and mathematical processes, Stahnke has for the second time, resurrected the subtleties of Rachmaninoff's performances, embedded in his music rolls, for the modern listener to enjoy. This recording features the great Rachmaninoff performing works by other composers, including spectacular and idiosyncratic renditions of pieces he never recorded on LP, such as the Chopin Scherzo in B flat minor.
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If you are seeking the ‘Rachmaninoff playing Rachmaninoff’ 78 recordings on the RCA Victor label transferred to CD (available from Amazon) then you need to look elsewhere because THOSE performances were recorded on primitive equipment with limited frequency response and limited dynamic range. They are noisy and they do not have any ‘go’ in them.
As you are obviously a fan of the great man’s fabulous masterpieces, on the two Telarc ‘A Window in Time’ CDs you will hear Rachmaninov performing his masterworks and the compositions of the greats on a Bosendorfer concert grand ‘reproducing piano’ - with FULL frequency response and FULL dynamic range.
You are probably wondering how it is possible to hear Rachmaninov - and not only Rachmaninov – it is also possible to hear Grieg; Strauss; Saint-Saens; Prokofiev; Scriabin; Mahler; Bartok; Stravinsky; Bizet; Granados; Debussy; Faure; Arrau; Serkin; Paderewski; Horowitz; Popper; Hoffman; Gershwin; Granger; Rubenstein and Hess - in full high fidelity, so permit me to explain.
In 1904 the German company Welte Mignon made an astonishing leap in technology and invented the world’s first ‘reproducing piano’ – a piano that shocked the world because THIS piano did not crudely ‘play the notes’ as instruments such as the ‘Pianola’ did.
Through mechanised DIGITAL decoding (yes really), THIS piano was capable of playing classical music with FULL expression - capturing the full dynamic range of the captured performance – including independent operation of the ‘damper’ and ‘soft’ pedals - all faithfully and accurately ‘recorded’ on a paper ‘music roll’ so as to facilitate playback of every tonal expression, which is so important to beautiful piano playing.
This amazing piano had astonishing control of articulation and dynamics – so much so that European composers from ‘the golden age’ who were keen to leave a timeless legacy of their talent and virtuosity flocked to Austria and America to make ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music roll’ recordings - and before you could say ‘Benno Moiseiwitsch’ reproducing piano began to grace the homes of high society – the most notable of these being the ‘Ampico’ (1911); and the ‘Duo-Art’ (1914).
People hearing a ‘reproducing piano’ ‘live’ for the first time are usually stunned into jaw-dropping silence as the piano ‘comes to life’ in a really spooky way. Children gasp; women sob; and grown men cry at the wonderful virtuoso performances as they listen to the delicate detail and full tonal and dynamic ‘expression’ - just as the Rachmaninoff ‘recorded’ it almost a CENTURY ago.
In 1917 the ‘October Revolution’ led by Lenin and Trotsky – based upon the principles of Karl Marx - took place in Russia on the 7th of November 1917.
When Lenin revealed that Russia could only become a ‘utopian state’ through ‘a dictatorship of the proletariat’ - which led to civil war and the formation of a repressive Soviet state under Joseph Stalin - it prompted Rachmaninov (and others) to flee their beloved country for America.
Now as luck would have it, the American Piano Company had just released their ‘Ampico B’ reproducing piano – and Rachmaninov was approached to ‘record’ ‘music rolls’ to promote this uncanny instrument – a formidable instrument of great beauty capable of reproducing every accent; every nuance; every shade; every crescendo; and every diminuendo from the softest pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo.
Every virtuoso interprets music in a very personal way. By playing a ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music roll’ on a ‘reproducing piano’, what this means is that instead of hearing archaic recordings of Rachmaninov; Paderewski; Horowitz; and Rubenstein, et al, recorded on primitive recording equipment with mediocre sound-capture and playback capability, what you hear is an ACOUSTICAL RECREATION of a virtuoso performance played as it SHOULD be heard, on a REAL piano – each and every time you play these remarkable CDs.
To quote Mahler “The reproducing piano reproduces the living soul of the artist and has not an equal”.
Gasp in awe - you really ARE listening to Rachmaninoff playing the piano.
The Telarc recordings span Rachmaninov’s ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music roll’ output from 1919 to 1933 (both available from Amazon) - and they are STUNNING.
Thanks to the astonishing efforts of Telarc’s technical team married to the marvels of Telarc’s world-acclaimed digital recording technology, what this means is that you hear experience, and enjoy the virtuosity of Rachmaninoff as he delivers ‘live’ performances at an incredible level of fidelity. The subtleties and ‘inner detail’ of Rachmaninoff’s virtuoso performances are revealed with astonishing clarity – including his big ‘power chords’; his sparkling glissandos; and his celebrated ‘bird trills’ that really do impersonate the trill of a thrush.
Here you will hear Rachmaninoff’s world-renowned ‘Prelude in C sharp minor’; his beautiful ‘Melodie in E major’; his fabulous ‘Prelude in G minor’; and his tone poem ‘Lilacs’. And if that is not joy enough, you also hear and experience Rachmaninoff performing two wonderful pieces by Fritz Kriesler as well as Beethoven’s ‘Turkish March’ with the vim and gusto Rachmaninoff is renowned for – and then have a box of tissues on standby as you hear the great man play Gluck’s ‘Melodie dell Orfio’
Other gems include Rachmaninoff playfully ‘snagging the thread’ as he plays Mendelssohn’s ‘Spinning Song’ prior to giving a wonderful interpretation of Chopin’s ‘Waltz in E flat major’ from the ballet ‘Chopiniana’ (the very first ‘romantic’ ‘ballet of mood’ which depicts how a woman rejected by a poet as he chooses between two women, conquers her emotions – now available fully restored on ‘Kirov Classics’ BluRay) – and get those tissues out again as you listen to Rachmaninoff play Rubenstein’s’ ‘Barcarole’.
No surface noise – no distortion – no ‘cramping’ of the dynamics - no abrupt endings – just shear bliss as you listen to the master play on one of the most remarkable inventions of the 20th century – the ‘reproducing piano’ (be warned – its addictive).
Hearing is BELIEVING!
Go further: if you haven’t already done so, treat yourself to the Telarc recordings of Jacques Loussier and his trio playing Schumann (TEL 32270-02); Debussy (CD 83511); Satie (CD 83431); and Vivaldi (CD 83417) and be taken on a sonic listening experience like no other.
Once you hear the astonishing fidelity of the Rachmaninoff you will certainly want to get your hands on more ‘reproducing piano’ ‘music roll’ pieces from ‘the golden age’ of virtuoso pianists. As we seem to have got to know each other a little better, I shall now explain how you can do this (shhh – come a little closer so that I can whisper it – but whatever you do - don’t tell anyone – it’s a secret).
Dal-Segno have painstakingly compiled and recorded some of the finest composers and pianists that ever lived on a wonderful catalogue of ‘music roll’ CDs (search for dal-segno).
These include performances from Strauss; Grieg; Paderewski; Rachmaninov; Prokofiev; Scriabin; Mahler; Bartok; Stravinsky; Saint-Saens; Bizet; Granados; Debussy; Faure; Gershwin; Granger; Arrau; Serkin; Lhevinne; Novaes; Horowitz; Rubenstein; and Hess – and this is only scratching the surface of their amazing accomplishment.
Dal Segno have released two special ‘samplers’ from their remarkable catalogue to encourage our children to appreciate timeless compositions performed by virtuoso performers. These are ‘Music for babies’ and ‘Music for children’.
Both CDs are truly magical. Smile and dance as you listen to Percy Granger playing melodies from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’; dream in wistful reverie as you listen to Claude Debussy play ‘The girl with the flaxen hair’; sing along with gusto as George Gershwin plays ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ to lift the spirits and gladden the heart; or join Strauss on an epic boat journey that takes you right across Europe as he plays the wonderfully celebrated ‘mind picture’ ‘On the beautiful blue Danube’.
And if you wish to go the extra mile, treat yourself or a loved one to ‘Kirov Classics’ on BluRay or DVD (available on Amazon). Here you will find the ballet ‘Chopiniana’ faithfully restored in full colour which contains the ‘A major prelude’ in full.
It doesn’t get any better!
However, often when this has been done, the results are rather disappointing - the instruments themselves have the background noise of the pneumatics pffting away, and the piano rolls often sound a big clunky and 'quantised' compared to gramophone recordings, due to vagueries of the hole-punching on the paper (stretched or torn with time) and uncertaintly/uneveness in the spooling speed of the rolls.
That's why this CD is such a success - as the nicely detailed CD booklet explains, Wayne Stahnke developed a system to scan the paper rolls (often comparing more than one copy of the original), digitising them into them something (I imagine) not unlike MIDI, so they could be played on a modern solenoid-operated piano. Using some well-informed research, he's done his best to correct for the timing problems of the rolls and spooling.
The results are far and away the best piano roll CD I've ever heard - the audio is absolutely pristine, and the performances sound very natural and expressive. Rachmaninoff was famous for the precision and clarity of his playing and these method of reproduction certainly seems to have captured it. Rachmaninoff's gramophone recordings of most of the same pieces on this CD are available elsewhere, and these new versions mimic the feel and playing style very closely, but with pristine sound.
After blethering on about the technical side, I nearly forgot to mention the actual music! The CD contains over an hour of short pieces (I doubt the piano roll format supported long form works - the longest here is about 6 minutes) from Rachmaninoff's repertoire - I'm guessing some of the more frivolous ones were those he tended to throw in as encores at his recitals. There's nearly half a dozen Chopin numbers (waltzes, nocturnes, and scherzo no.2) impeccably played, a couple of Tchaikovsky, several of Lizst's transcriptions and more... nothing composed by Rachmaninoff himself (those are all on the first CD in this series).