September 17, 2014

Ran Dank III: Mozart, Debussy, Boulez

Three more live recordings by Ran Dank which document previously unavailable to me performances of this remarkable pianist at the 2007 Cleveland International Piano Competition.  (Dank was 25 at the time and was awarded 4th prize.)  With one exception his playing in these selections shows the already familiar blend of musical intelligence, impeccable technique, and a glowing golden tone.  The exception is Dank's playing of the last four notes in the 3rd bar of the Adagio from Mozart's sonata K.570 (and in the repeats of the opening theme).
     Although in the score (2006 Mozarteum Salzburg edition) these four notes are marked staccato:

some pianists (e.g., Horszowski, 1983 Aldeburgh) all but ignore these markings and do nothing to set these notes apart from the rest of the musical line.  Others (e.g., Barenboim, Arrau) play these notes as very moderately detached, which gives them just a hint of "kinkiness" but no more than that.  Still others (e.g., Uchida) play these notes just short of genuine staccato, which brings that part of the musical line close to sounding annoyingly coy.  Dank, however, plays these three notes staccatissimo (extremely detached) which makes the musical line sound simply freakish (or Gouldian, which is the same thing when it comes to Mozart sonatas).  Having listened to Dank's performance several times already (the playing in the rest of the sonata is beautifully voiced and stylishly phrased without a trace of annoying Mozartean precociousness), I am still jarred by these four notes and may never come to terms with what I hear as a very rare lapse of aesthetic judgment on Dank's part.

Having vented my isolated disappointment, I still think these recordings - which, in addition to Mozart's sonata, include Debussy's Etudes Book 1 and Boulez' Notations (the latter can be compared with Dank's 2009 performance at the Van Cliburn Competition available in the same folder) - are very much worth hearing for the beauty of Dank's musicianship and instrumental craft.


sneffels said...

Interesting pianist - thank you!

It'd be nice to know when and where these were recorded.

Boom said...


2007 CIPC performances took place at the Bolton Theater, Cleveland Playhouse in Cleveland.
2009 Van Cliburn Comp. performances were recorded at the Bass Auditorium in Dallas, TX.

RonanM said...

I am afraid that the 'dolce' marking in your score betrays it as a romantic fraud. Mozart rarely wrote dynamics unless they were structural, and didn't litter his scores with sentimental aspirations.
And examining the Konemann urtext (the nearest one to hand) reveals that the slur over the staccatos is likewise a piece of wishful thinking on behalf the the saintly editor. Mozart wrote staccato dots.
Now playing these dots is a different matter. Mozart was meticulous in his articulation marks, and clearly differentiated between a wedge and a dot. The wedge is more of an accent (it even occurs over tied notes in one of the sonatas!). The dots, on the other hand, are more of a lifting movement of the hand. Wedges shape the attack, while dots shape the release.
So Mr Dank is probably wrong to treat them as wedges, but your editor is even more wrong to second guess Mozart.
What is striking about Mozart's writing is that although he often writes a whole movement with no dynamics, he cannot write a note without writing the articulation, whether by precise note values, the use of rests, or articulation marks.
Please, my dear Boom. Throw away your score and get one that is faithful to Mozart's writing.

Boom said...


Many thanks for your note. I don't keep scores at home since I am a very poor score reader (a Mozart sonata is already at the limit of my ability), and I don't play the piano anyway to need them. The score I originally excerpted from was the first I saw online at, which was obviously an old edition. After reading your comment I changed the excerpt to the 2006 Mozarteum Salzburg edition which is the most recent I could find online.

What interests me now in light of your illuminating comment is the wide range of alternative realizations of these markings, some of which I mention in the post. I especially wonder about Horszowski's 1983 live recording from Aldebugh in which he ignores the staccato markings completely. How could this much admired and experienced Mozart player could justify such radical deviation from the score (even in a corrupted old edition)?

RonanM said...

I can well understand the problems that people like Horszowski faced. For a start, standard editions didn't distinguish between dots and wedges because editors didn't understand the usage. In addition, Mozart's slurs are problematic. He can use, in the same movement, the more modern approach of slurring the whole phrase and the older habit of stopping slurs at the bar line, something that sounds hilarious if you actually try doing it literally. (See the first movement of K570 for the most celebrated example).
And when you have spent your life with the sound of the wrong thing in your head, how difficult it is to return to first principles. Consider how long we've known about the manuscript version of the Chopin G-flat waltz, but the Fontana version is so embedded in our collective consciousness that very few players even attempt the original (Igoshina, I think, does. I can't think of anyone else.)
In the end, Horszowski comes closer to the music than many of the hilarious attempts at literalism that I've heard, which interpret the articulation marks as if they were written by Ravel, rather than understanding them in their contemporary usage.