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Tales out of school
Pianist

Tales out of school

Posted Tuesday, 4 October 2016   |   2180 views   |   Music   |   Comments (0) Back in the days of Rachmaninov and Cortot, national schools of playing were thought to be very distinct. Is this still true today? John Evans investigates

It’s said that the famous teacher Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915), born in Poland and reckoned to be one of the most influential piano teachers of all time (his students included Paderewski, Friedman and Schnabel), could identify the nationality of a pianist by their playing alone.

Apparently, German pianists paid great attention to detail and respected the music, but were a little dull. French pianists were elegant and phrased supremely well. Italians were passionate but couldn’t play a note. Americans were spontaneous. British pianists were good workers but bad technicians. His own countrymen were poetic and instinctively tender. The best pianists were Russians, equipped with a prodigious technique, passion and dramatic power.

Were he alive today, how might Leschetizky describe pianists from Asia and the Far East? Once upon a time, and conveniently forgetting the likes of Mitsuko Uchida who, in any case, trained in Vienna, it was fashionable to dismiss them as note-perfect but lacking authenticity. Not any more, as Seong-Jin Cho, the South Korean winner of the 2015 International Chopin Piano Competition, is the latest to remind us.

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