Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us



Rex Lawson, Dennis Hall & Tom Jansen

PURCELL ROOM, South Bank Centre, London 3 DECEMBER 2006

The Purcell Room hosted as glittering an array of some of the most brilliant, famous and well-respected pianists ever brought together at South Bank; composer-pianists Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Scriabin, Medtner, Gabrilowitsch and Stravinsky, and other historic pianists including Lhevinne and the young Horowitz !


With two Steinway grands and four push-on pianolas on stage, Rex Lawson and Dennis Hall, together with their colleague Tom Jansen who had flown in specially from Monschau, presented a concert of a kind that only keenly enthusiastic pianola groupies would have ever witnessed before.


Rachmaninov's Prelude in C sharp minor was followed by Liszt's Transcendental Study No 5 (performed by the composer's one time secretary Friedheim) and the eloquent Benediction of God in Solitude (played by the legendary Siloti), Chopin's Barcarolle Opus 60 (Annette Esipoff).


Prokofiev performed his often charming Opus 12 pieces, occasionally rather waywardly when compared to later pianists, No 7 a lovely rippling piece of liquidity.

Rex Lawson invited us all to applaud as if these were live performances, for a better atmosphere. Though it obviously felt a little odd to many, an audience loves an element of convention to express appreciation in the traditional manner.


Pianist/composer Ossip Gabrilowitsch amazed us with a soft charming Melodie Opus 8, then Scriabin dazzled with chromatic Preludes Opus 11 Nos 3 and 14, before Nicolai Medtner (his Danza Festiva) and Horowitz (two more Rachmaninov Preludes).


Less to my taste was Stravinsky Etude for Pianola one of several works especially written especially for this instrument.


The concert ended with a magnificent duo-performance by Lawson and Dennis Hall of the Rachmaninov Suite No 2; the piano rolls had been http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/articles/CD_InsertBooklets.htmlperforated by Rex Lawson himself. Pianolas can perform many more notes at a time, across the whole compass of the piano, than can two hands and ten fingers (That capability was exploited especially by Nancarrow - see below).


This means that music originally written for two pianos can be performed on one without losing any of the notes! Thus, whilst the performance could have been carried out on either of the two instruments, dividing the task and sharing the instruments (taking turns with the middle movements) minimised delays for roll-changing, and rewinding.


Dennis Day


°Pianola Institute http://www.pianola.org/

°Rex Lawson - concert pianolist http://www.rexlawson.com/index.html?recs.html&1


Conlon Nancarrow Player - Piano Studies Vol. 3

Studies 33-41c MDG Player Piano 5
MDG 645 1405-2

" - - for me it's the best music of any today living composers" (signed) Gyorgy Ligeti

Thus does MDG introduce the newest release of Conlon Nancarrow's unique music, of which he said "I've discovered a little musical niche" and "explored it well", laboriously punching all the holes into the piano rolls himself "five minutes music required many months of work" (Jürgen Hocker).

I had the pleasure of meeting Nancarrow in 1987 at the long-lamented Almeida Festival and found him as pleasant and affable to talk with as he looks; by no means the recluse of repute (q.v. obituary 1997).

Modern computer technology helps us to experience Nancarrow’s works exactly as this great mathematician and composer imagined them during the mid-1970s. His is the art of complex formulae turned into sound. Nancarrow fan Jürgen Hocker has updated the earlier Arch Records and Wergo discs of (some of) these unique masterworks, some of them being first ever recordings on an original Ampico player piano. To improve the sound and supercede those you might already have he eliminated motor noise by locating external blowers in an adjacent room.

There is a huge amount of technical background information at www.nancarrow.de and in English at http://www.nancarrow.de/ueber_den_autor.htm#Begegnungen%20mit%20Conlon%20Nancarrow.

It is exhilarating and irresistibly enjoyable music which takes rhythmic complexity to its limits, and in a completely different direction from Elliott Carter's experiments.

Recommended unreservedly for its recording quality, presentation - and the music itself.

Original Compositions of the 1920s
MDG Player Piano 4
MDG 645 1404-2

Strawinsky Étude pour Pianola
Hindemith Toccata
Hans Haas Fuge in C-Dur; Intermezzo
Ernst Toch Studie IV: Der Jongleur
Gerhart Münch Sechs polyphone Etüden für elektrisches Klavier.
Nicolai Lopatnikoff Scherzo
Casella Trois Pieces pour Pianola
Malipiero (1882-1973) Tre Improvvisi per Pianola
Marcel Duchamp The bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even.
Antheil Mécanique No. 1 (Ballet Mécanique for four pianos and eight hands)
Bösendorfer Grand Piano with Ampico Player Piano Mechanism

A good conspectus of the player piano (pianola) in its heyday, also from Jürgen Hocker's collection and prepared for CD with his scrupulous perfectionism.

Rather a battering if you play too many straight off, but of enormous historical interest as a distant precursor to today's computer music proliferation.

Peter Grahame Woolf

We have placed these reviews on the same page as a concert review for Musical Pointers by our enthusiast Dennis Day, whose death has been announced. On the last occasion we met, Dennis had joined me and relished this PIANOLA INSTITUTE event; it probably was the last player-piano recital to date in London:
q.v. http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/articles/generaltopics/pianolaDDPR.htm

Dennis ran Hitchin Music Matters in Hertfordshire, and details of a concert in his memory will be found on that link. [PGW & YC]

Photo by Jürgen Hocker