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Russians, Welte-Mignon and Duo-Art


Rex Lawson, Dennis Hall & Tom Jansen




The Purcell Room hosted as glittering an array of brilliant, famous and well-respected Russian pianists as ever brought together at South Bank; composer-pianists Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Medtner, Gabrilowitsch and Stravinsky, and other historic pianists including Lhevinne and the young Horowitz.


With two Steinway grands and four push-on pianolas filling the 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), the eloquent Benediction of God in Solitude (played by the legendary Siloti) and Chopin's Barcarolle Opus 60 (Annette Esipoff).


Prokofiev gave us his often charming Opus 12 pieces, occasionally rather waywardly when compared to later pianists, No 7 a lovely rippling piece of liquidity.

Rex Lawson invited us all to applaud as if these were live performances, for a better atmosphere. Though it obviously felt a little odd to many, an audience loves an element of convention to express appreciation in the traditional manner.


Pianist/composer Ossip Gabrilowitsch amazed us with a soft charming Melodie, then Scriabin dazzled with chromatic Preludes from Opus 11, before Nicolai Medtner (his Danza Festiva) and Horowitz (two more Rachmaninov Preludes).


Less to my taste was Stravinsky's 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 perforated 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). 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.


Dennis Day


°Pianola Institute http://www.pianola.org/

°Rex Lawson - concert pianolist http://www.rexlawson.com/index.html?recs.html&1