Performance Reference Library

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Motivation

This page contains painstakingly prepared recordings of piano works from the classical literature which are believed to be as free from flaws as possible. Hence, they provide convenient and authoritative reference performances for music students, teachers and potential performers.

For most of the works posted here, excellent live performances by world class concert pianists are available on CD from local music vendors or online from international sources.  Unfortunately, the presence of defects in these recordings, however slight, are easily detected by experienced listeners, performers or critics. Some deficiencies are due to limitations of the pianist; others to technical problems with the recording equipment or acoustic environment. Most of these are ultimately taken in stride by the listener and simply accepted as inevitable departures from the ideal conditions everyone would prefer to exist.

Note that any imperfections which are discernable to the listener can be overlooked once an accommodation is made between the expectations and  realities of live performance. These limitations are not normally a concern with pieces from the standard piano literature performed by the best of the concert pianists, but the most demanding of these pieces strain both the performer and the recording environment to the extreme. In such cases the defects may be all too apparent, and impossible to completely eliminate.

The purpose of the recorded performances posted here is too provide reference versions of certain works which avoid the most common defects and present the material in a form which is as close the composers intentions as possible. We can assume, without fear of contradiction, that the composer, performer or music producer would like his recordings to be as free from unnecessary defects as possible.

In the following paragraphs, a summary of the most common defects is provided. Since the intent of this recording project is to develop versions of certain classics which are musically correct and technically accurate, the art and science of performance are both covered.

Technical Flaws

Technical flaws are among the most common and obvious of the defects which plague recorded performances. These include

Aside from the limitations of the performer, which might be mitigated by splicing tracks from multiple performances, some of the above flaws can be minimized by careful preparation and by post-processing the recorded performance. In fact, these are standard practices. 

Musical Flaws

Musical flaws refer to problems with the interpretation or execution of the dynamics of the work, as distinguished from technical errors. Although there is great latitude for differences from one performance to another, there are bounds which are not entirely subjective. We can generally find objective criteria inferred from notations on the works themselves which suggest an acceptable range of performance variations.

Proper interpretation is a major concern with which solo performers and symphonic conductors are concerned. There are issues about the overall form of the work, the fine details concerning the performance of individual passages, the balance of the instruments or voices, the variations in tempo, etc. Again, the subjective criteria which distinguish one performance from another are not the major concern. It is the crossing over objective boundaries which constitute defects. It is worth noting that whether the work under consideration is symphonic or solo, no one would be comfortable with unnecessary flaws if the means to eliminate them was at hand.

One of the subtlest of the musical flaws involves improper balance between voices in a multipart composition. Clearly, an accompaniment should not drown out a soloist. Nor should a dominant melodic line be buried under complex, but secondary, voices or harmonic support. 

Another flaw concerns the misuse of rubato or rhythmic variation. Most works, particularly after the Baroque period, do not lend themselves to rigid or metronomic tempos. A Sousa march requires a rigid beat, but a Chopin nocturne could hardly pass critical muster if it ran from start to end in exactly the same tempo. Even piano etudes, which might be summarily categorized as technical exercises, generally demand some rhythmic variation to satisfy ordinary musical performance standards. On the other hand, most of the pre-romantic and much of the post-romantic music would suffer greatly if the same range of rhythmic variation  appropriate for a Chopin nocturne were applied.

The subject of interpretive errors quickly extends into a very subjective realm where personal preferences play a significant role. Within the bounds of a composer's dynamic instructions and accepted practice lies a range of possibilities which defy quantification by a rigid standard. Hence, I will not attempt to characterize the musical content of the performances provided in this section of my website as right or in some sense better than recordings of the same works by your favorite performer. They are not intended to compete with or replace live performances. My only modest claim is that they are technically accurate, free from unnecessary and unwanted artifacts and that the interpretive elements are musically sound.

MP3 Files

With the above exposition in mind, I have made the following MP3 files available for download with neither registration nor payment required. These consist of several works from the classical piano literature including some of the most difficult pieces written for the instrument. The performances are believed to be technically accurate and free from unnecessary artifacts. The interpretive decisions were my own. This library will continue to expand as I add completed selections to it.

Note that MP3 files are compressed with a lossy compression method which reduces the storage requirements and improves the download rate but does not completely retain the original sound quality. I am currently considering the publication of CD quality versions of these works with 16-bit channels in stereo at a 44.1kHz sampling rate.

Piano Works

Composer

Ravel

I welcome any feedback about these performances. You can send critiques, comments or suggestions here.