Paul Cantrell’s music blog & podcast
Piano music old and new from a devoted amateur,
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Posts tagged “Schumann”

As regular readers of In the Hands know, I’ve been working through my older recordings and applying my up-to-date mastering process — making them sound better, in other words. As I went through the list, I found that these two recordings make a nice pair. Arranging nice little transitions like this is one of my favorite parts of doing a concert. It’s the same little pleasure as assembling a mix CD or playing DJ: even the simple act of ordering songs is a kind of composition, and carries the joy of being creative.

The keys of the two pieces (E flat and A flat) are related and make for a smooth transition, but beyond that, it’s hard to pin down what exactly connects them so well. The deliberate, thoughtful way both unfold? The way both of them seem to talk? Their sense of intimacy? Those are all getting warm, but none of them really pin it down. It doesn’t matter, though — it is fine to be musically confident on intuition alone, and I say they fit. Phooey to the 20th century and its obsession with having a conscious rationale for everything in music!

When something musical works well, it’s natural to wonder why, and we learn a great deal in the process of trying to come up with explanations. But our musical explanations (like all models of reality) are always incomplete; good music remains half-submerged in the unknown, and thus always carries the magic shared by all mysterious things. This is the dilemma of a performer and, even more, of a composer: constantly dissecting, looking for order, developing explanations and rationales — and at the same time never losing sight of the incompleteness of these explanations, but embracing the unknown and holding on to the magic. The skill of smoothly changing frame between reasoning and intuition, known and unknown, dissected part and organic whole, is a core part of both composition and computer programming. Those are two things I spent a lot of my time doing, and I claim they overlap a great deal in the brain, in large part because of this “frame shifting.”

Oh, right, I had a recording to share. Enough philosophizing. On with the music!

Sinfonia No 5
Paul Cantrell, piano
Bunte Blätter No 6
Paul Cantrell, piano

These both come from wonderful sets of pieces — Bach’s two- and three-part inventions, and Schumann’s Albumblätter (“Album Leaves,” which is a subset of Bunte Blätter, “Colored Leaves”). I’d like to learn more of both sets (and improve my Bach playing in general, because it’s very weak). Too much great music and not enough time! What’s a fellow to do?

In the Hands is primarily for my own recordings, but today I have a special exception to make: over the summer, I recorded Don Betts, my piano teacher, playing in his home. Don has made a great many excellent recordings over the years — including the Chopin album available on this web site — but these recordings we made in his living room are something entirely different. They have a special kind of magic about them. The Chopin album was recorded in a concert hall, and it has a concert hall feeling: it’s Don the performer, playing a big piano in a big space, and with a big manner to match. The way I really think of him, though, is Don the teacher: playing to an audience of one, not performing so much as sharing, hoping you will share his love and his sense of wonder for the music. These recordings are the first that truly capture the Don Betts I know best.

We recorded several pieces, and after much fiddling with EQ, I finally have the first recording prepared and sounding quite decent (though more work is needed!).

Arabesque (Op 18)
Donald Betts, piano

Recording in this setting posed some challenges: I had to adapt a recording setup designed for my home studio to an entirely different piano in an entirely different space. It took some experimenting to get mic positions that worked. Don’s piano isn’t a concert instrument, and there was a funny buzz to contend with, plus the noises from outside — you can even hear Don’s fingernails clicking on the keys! I worry a little that listeners used to hearing clinically perfect studio recordings will be put off, but I think you’ll find that there is so much life in this music, your mind won’t notice the surface details for long. Close your eyes and imagine: you’re standing next to a master of the art, in his home, sharing with you what he loves.

I'm just back today from a wonderful, wonderful trip to NYC and New Haven, CT, which was a reminder of just how wonderful family and friendship are. And although I'm really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed (I've been up since 5:20 AM Minnesota time), I did manage to edit and master tonight something I'd recorded beforehand for you.