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Interpretation: Youtube Performance Discussion

When interpreting music, it’s important to be experimental and experiential. You need to allow your own musical fingerprint to flow naturally through the music without trying too hard to impose yourself on the music. I don’t believe it’s good to get stuck in an “ideal” interpretation, at least not for long. Be open to inspiration at all times and able to respond to it with your playing.

Yes, there are performance decisions you’ll have to make and expressive techniques you’ll have to practice, but the ultimate goal is for me is not necessarily to achieve an ideal performance in which all the markings and previously planned decisions have been perfectly executed. This is especially true in music where there are not many expressive markings in the score.

While it’s true that honing a coherent interpretation will often include a stage in which you work hard at controlling and shaping the music so you can at consistently produce a set of expressive effects, the more profound expressive goal is to then be able to let go of this and cultivate the ability to be in an interpretive state in which you are discovering the music as if for the first time.

Because this is a transcription from the violoncello, it’s a good idea to listen to some cello performances for inspiration and in order to get an idea of the wide range of interpretation this piece has been given. It’s good to check out as many interpretations as you feel inspired to listen to, and listen as deeply as you can, deciding what you like, what you might not like as much, what affects you the most about the piece.

This section is the result of a quick search of Youtube—it’s not meant as a definitive discussion or listing, just as a way of opening up exploration.

Yo-Yo Ma

Notice the fullness of sound, notice that he’s concentrating and feeling deeply while the piece, technically speaking, is easy for him.  On the cello, the piece is pure melody, (no “chords” “double stops” or separate bass-line) It gets its from from a mixture of melodic motives and arpeggios that explore the shape of the chords that shape the harmonic journey.  

Notice how a cellist lingers on some notes and moves through others. Often they’ll stress the lowest note, in a way that it resonates more fully, and rings in your mind even when he’s moved to the next part of the arpeggio. At other times they’ll stress a particularly important melodic note. The thing I’d like to stress is that none of these cellists play it “straight,” by which I mean evenly… even sixteenth notes all the way through. They are all very playful and constantly shifting the tempo—and with good expressive reasons.

Here’s my favorite: Mischa Maisky

I especially like how he starts dancing with the music towards the end during the “pedal point” section as he builds up to the ending, which is especially emotionally intense (notice how he starts rocking.)

Another one I liked…Ophelie Gaillard. I’ve never heard of her but it’s a worthwhile listen.

Notice how she brings in and integrates more crisp, staccato strokes in the melody than some of the other cellists (and huge resonant bass underpinning notes),  seems to contrast them with longer strokes on other notes. And notice how she ends almost serenely, rather than intensely.

Here’s a beautiful one by Pierre Fournier—much more “straight,” with less exaggerated freedom in the rubato than many of the other performance by cellists. His tone is amazing! It ends serenely as well—but notice that even though the 16ths are pretty even, there’s still a slight holding of the first 16th note of each measure at the beginning.

Guitar Peformances

The guitar performances that show up are mostly guitarists that I haven’t heard of before, but who cares?

This one is by Tatyana Ryzhkova.

It’s a very flowing, beautiful performance, and she is obviously deeply in touch with the music as she plays it. Notice that there is less noticeable rubato, or playing with the tempo, than in the cello performances. She is able to get a lot of subtle expressive variety using volume and color, as well as noticeable rubato in some of the larger transitions.

Here’s another interesting one. Performed by Daria Semikina of a transcription by Richard Wright.

The piece is transcribed into the key of C. Also, as she mentions, there are very few added notes in the transcription. Although this is ostensibly to make the “most close” to the cello version, it doesn’t exactly have that effect because the fingering used is very guitaristic… the arpeggios are almost all done using cross string fingerings so they ring over each other, harp-like— and this is something the cello can’t do at all. Nevertheless, it’s very beautiful and very sensitively and skillfully played as well.

Here’s a really high-level transcription by John Feely:

Notice how he starts out by rhythmically accentuating the bass note at the beginning of each measure, thus bringing out the resonance of the bass notes in a similar way to a cello performer. He also uses very judiciously chosen right hand rest stroke in melodic passages that he wants to accentuate, and this is more reminiscent of a cellist’s sound because it increases the resonance and impact of the notes.

Some more interesting cello versions:

Faster, complete with a brook—hint, hint:

On the 5 string Baroque Cello, Tanya Tomkins—it’s instructive to listen to some of her comments, the assumption being that we can learn a lot by studying what perfomance practices and instrumentation were while Bach was alive, in the attempt to get closer to what he might have intended it to sound like.

Last but certainly not least, Pablo Casals, the man who brought the suites to light and made them famous after discovering a copy of them in a thrift store, in an amazing performance. Age 77. It says in the notes that this is “arguably” not Casals at his best, but come on folks, picky much?