Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Mozart Piano Concerto No. 9, K271, 3rd Mvt.

I'm performing this piece in public tomorrow night, after 3 weeks of learning it.  Actually, after the first week, I was already sick of it beyond description, so I more or less took a week off, but the last week I just really haven't been practicing that much.

I'm bad at memorizing, partly because I rarely sink any real effort in it, partly because I'm good at reading music (reading and memorizing tend to be anti-correlated, from my small sample size).  It's a public concert, but it's pretty informal, so I don't really have much pressure performing the piece from memory.  I will be playing with an 8-piece "orchestra"--2 oboes, 2 horns, 4 strings--and in fact it's precisely because of this constraint I picked a movement from an early Mozart concerto.

Still, it appears that I have overestimated my ability to learn a 10-minute piece in 3 weeks.  At the time, I thought, it's Mozart, I learn fast, I have nimble fingers, I'll be fine.  Well, yes and no, as it turns out.  The Yes'es:

- Mozart isn't too difficult technically
- it's a concerto, so 10 minutes is more like 7 minutes or so.
- no need to memorize means far less pressure.

The No's:

- to pull off a good Mozart still takes lots of refinement technically.
- not enough time for me to come up with more interpretation ideas.
- a practical matter: I get sick of practicing the same piece.  So 3 weeks is more like 2 weeks because I did end up basically taking a week off.  And the last few days I can't make real adjustments anyway.  So it's more like 10 days of practicing.

Anyway, this post is more about specific interpretation issues, ideas, and technical issues.  Let's jump right in.

(1) Tempo.
  It's marked Presto, an uncommon marking for Mozart.  Though apparently, it's marked Molto Allegro in the Salzberg performance material.  Anyway, it's fast, if not very fast.  But just how fast?  Listening to recordings, Uchida plays at a breakneck speed, Haskil a little slower, Brendel the slowest.  The average is probably around MM=152.  I find 152 a tad too fast for some passages, but 144 to be a tad too slow.  If my metronome gives me 148 I'll probably be happy.

(2) Main Theme
  This comes up multiple times, I wonder if I should play it differently each time.  But there are more specific issues:
Measures 1-7.
  I don't really like the fingering I use here, in the cyan box.  The D played by the thumb tend to be a bit heavy, the F by the picky a tad light and short.  I need to correct for these issues by playing them lighter or heavier.
  I also don't really like how I shape the theme: Eb, Eb-F-Eb, Eb-F-etc.  The left hand plays a big role, I believe, but I don't know just how much weight to put there.  It's just I-V-I etc, yet it's still quite engaging and interesting.  And should I accent the LH pickup, or on the 1st beat?  They're decisions I can't seem to settle on.
  This theme comes up many times, so I wish I have a solution by now.
(3) Descending Broken Thirds
  So, my scales aren't bad.  They also reasonably even.  So it's not like I can't pull off descending broken thirds... but for performance, I wish I had more time to do a better job:
Measures 401-408.  Ignore the long phrasing mark--it's not urtext.
  The problem is that, I can't guarantee I won't miss a note here and there playing this passage.  Probably just 75% of the time--and that's when practicing at home.  Another issue is the control and phrasing.  As I'm descending, should I place a little more emphasize on the thumb, something for the audience to listen to?  Or should I treat it more like broken thirds, which sounds mechanical?  My evenness and steady phrasing also requires more refinement here, since a couple notes will jump out if it's not completely under control.  This is what I mean when I say technically it's not hard, to pull it off with at a high level requires a lot more work than meets the eye.

There are loads of other things I haven't decided on.  Maybe I'll expand on this in a later post.

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