Over the past few months i was hired for a two private performances for Classical/Romantic music lovers. One was a lawyer's banquet, the other was an event organized by my teacher. I played several pieces at these performances, but I struggle with my performance of Rachmaninoff's Elegie in E-Flat minor. Technical skill is not the issue here, nor is understanding of the piece. The problem lies in the tempo. I performed the piece two different ways.
At the Lawyer's banquet it was played fairly harshly in some aspects, and the tempo was faster, more in accordance with Rachmaninoff's own Ampico recording. I feel that this method of performing the work conveyed a sense of hatred towards death. A sort of fiery defiance of the fact that it is final and irreversible. When playing in this manner i feel as if i'm fighting to close a black hole in my heart.
At the second event, i played the piece in a manner more befitting of death itself. When one looks at a dead body, touches it, or (God forbid any of you have had this displeasure) when one sees someone die, there is a sudden stillness in the air. A total lack of movement and imperception. No momentum at all. When i played the piece in this manner on the stage, i myself was actually moved to tears, as were several members of the audience. For those of us that have been in touch with death, it's a very sorrowful thing indeed.
Now, the problem: I have mixed feelings about how one should interpret a piece. Is it the performer's duty to convey the composer's intent? Especially when a composer frequently contradicts his own markings, it makes it difficult to find out what their intent was. Or is it the duty of the performer to form their own connection with the piece and play it in their own sense of perfection?
But what about when the intent of the composer was for the performer to connect with the piece in their own way? I feel that i play the second manner far more soulfully than i do the first way, but when Rachmaninoff himself recorded it that way it's quite difficult to ascertain as to whether or not the piece should be performed that way. Especially when you have a title like Elegie which is a direct reference to death in all its finality and stillness.
Along with his Prelude in G-minor (which i have found several different ways to play, all of which convey the sense of the march and the frosty but passionate beauty of the middle section), this remains one of my eternally unfinished pieces that i will never be completely satisfied with. I'm constantly critical of my performances in terms of how well i lay something out for an audience so that they can see it. If you can't touch someone's heart with music, then what good is it?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
PS: If you have any advice on Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano concerto (any at all), that would be appreciated too. You all already know that it's fiendishly difficult, and it's killing me. I intend to perform it in a few years with a full orchestra at the college i'm going to attend starting fall of '08.