Fortepiano Concert

The HIP (Historically Informed Performance) movement has been
moving steadily into the nineteenth and even twentieth
centuries. I was aware that there was enough difference in
orchestral instruments and their style of playing for this to be
interesting for orchestral works. And of course, singing and
playing music in the size hall it was designed for can be a lot
more satisfying than in a space designed to seat two or three
orders of magnitude more people than the composers and original
performers envisioned.

However, it wasn’t until last Sunday that I really realized
that the nineteenth century piano repertoire could benefit from
HIP.

The Loring Greenough House in Jamaica Plain, built in 1760, has
a Longman and Broderip square piano built in about 1800. I heard
a concert played on this piano last sunday by Judith Conrad.

The first two thirds or so of the concert was what I expect
from fortepianists — eighteenth century music where the
composers clearly expected non-equal temperaments and the piano
was playing in ensemble with instruments like the baroque flute
that hadn’t yet been engineered to play in a modern concert
hall. I particularly enjoyed the Haydn Flute sonata, ably
played by baroque flutist Michael Shand.

The fugues of Antonin Reicha, who straddled the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, also benefited from the shorter reverb
times and more intimate tone of the earlier instrument.

But then they switched to Mendelssohn. I grew up hearing
pieces like the Mendelssohn Songs without Words
played on a Steinway, and it hadn’t really occurred to me that
they too would benefit from the more intimate sound of the
earlier instrument. It’s clearly music for the living room and
not the concert hall, but I hadn’t realized that it was for a
living room with a cute little piano that plays thirds that are
consonances and gets out of the way of singers and instruments
who are trying to make music with it instead of dominating
them.

Another HIP aspect of this performance was that the audience
was invited to sing along on vocal works that complemented the
performance. I personally find this adds a lot to my ability to concentrate on other people’s music for two hours.

Unfortunately, the first Sunday in May is a terrible time to
play a concert, because you have to share your audience with all
the other people who are trying to play concerts then. So this one
drew 9 people and was probably doing well in comparison to some
other events. I would suggest that most performers whose rehearsal
schedules aren’t tied to the academic calendar should avoid concerts in
December and May.

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