THE PIANOLA INSTITUTE'S 21st ANNIVERSARY CONCERT
Rex Lawson, Dennis Hall & Tom Jansen
PURCELL ROOM, South Bank Centre, London – 3 DECEMBER 2006
With two Steinway grands and four push-on pianolas on stage, Rex Lawson and Dennis Hall, together with their colleague Tom Jansen who had flown in specially from Monschau, presented a concert of a kind that only keenly enthusiastic pianola groupies would have ever witnessed before.
Rachmaninov's Prelude in C sharp minor was followed by Liszt's Transcendental Study No 5 (performed by the composer's one time secretary Friedheim) and the eloquent Benediction of God in Solitude (played by the legendary Siloti), Chopin's Barcarolle Opus 60 (Annette Esipoff).
Prokofiev performed his often charming Opus 12 pieces, occasionally rather waywardly when compared to later pianists, No 7 a lovely rippling piece of liquidity.
Pianist/composer Ossip Gabrilowitsch amazed us with a soft charming Melodie Opus 8, then Scriabin dazzled with chromatic Preludes Opus 11 Nos 3 and 14, before Nicolai Medtner (his Danza Festiva) and Horowitz (two more Rachmaninov Preludes).
Less to my taste was Stravinsky Etude for Pianola – one of several works especially written especially for this instrument.
The concert ended with a magnificent duo-performance by Lawson and Dennis Hall of the Rachmaninov Suite No 2; the piano rolls had been http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/articles/CD_InsertBooklets.htmlperforated by Rex Lawson himself. Pianolas can perform many more notes at a time, across the whole compass of the piano, than can two hands and ten fingers (That capability was exploited especially by Nancarrow - see below).
This means that music originally written for two pianos can be performed on one without losing any of the notes! Thus, whilst the performance could have been carried out on either of the two instruments, dividing the task and sharing the instruments (taking turns with the middle movements) minimised delays for roll-changing, and rewinding.
°Pianola Institute http://www.pianola.org/
°Rex Lawson - concert pianolist http://www.rexlawson.com/index.html?recs.html&1
Conlon Nancarrow Player - Piano Studies Vol. 3
" - - for me it's the best music of any today living composers" (signed) Gyorgy Ligeti
Thus does MDG introduce the newest release of Conlon Nancarrow's unique music, of which he said "I've discovered a little musical niche" and "explored it well", laboriously punching all the holes into the piano rolls himself "five minutes music required many months of work" (Jürgen Hocker).
I had the pleasure of meeting Nancarrow in 1987 at the long-lamented Almeida Festival and found him as pleasant and affable to talk with as he looks; by no means the recluse of repute (q.v. obituary 1997).
Modern computer technology helps us to experience Nancarrow’s works exactly as this great mathematician and composer imagined them during the mid-1970s. His is the art of complex formulae turned into sound. Nancarrow fan Jürgen Hocker has updated the earlier Arch Records and Wergo discs of (some of) these unique masterworks, some of them being first ever recordings on an original Ampico player piano. To improve the sound and supercede those you might already have he eliminated motor noise by locating external blowers in an adjacent room.
It is exhilarating and irresistibly enjoyable music which takes rhythmic complexity to its limits, and in a completely different direction from Elliott Carter's experiments.
Original Compositions of the 1920s
A good conspectus of the player piano (pianola) in its heyday, also from Jürgen Hocker's collection and prepared for CD with his scrupulous perfectionism.
Peter Grahame Woolf
We have placed these reviews on the same page as a concert review for Musical Pointers by our enthusiast Dennis Day, whose death has been announced. On the last occasion we met,
Dennis had joined me and relished this PIANOLA INSTITUTE event; it probably was the last player-piano recital to date in London:
Dennis ran Hitchin Music Matters in Hertfordshire, and details of a concert in his memory will be found on that link. [PGW & YC]
Photo by Jürgen Hocker