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themythes
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While the eggheads among us have all busy recently discussing the Latin and Greek origins of the title of Mulet’s toccata, may I pick up on one solitary note from Gareth Perkins; fascinating as the various arguments are, I am equally, if not more intrigued by the way it is played, especially in respect of the tempo.

 

Most players seem to want to take it at a breakneck speed and one can certainly admire various performers’ techniques when it is heard this way. There is, however, a recording, I think, by Naji Hakim, who was organist, was he not, at Sacre-Coeur, taken at a very sedate pace. The effect, for me, is positively mesmeric and the pedal part begins at last to make its full effect. I am inclined to think that M. Hakim played it slowly from conviction and not because he couldn’t play it any faster. Is this his own view of the piece or is there a performing tradition handed down at SC?

 

Of course, a lot will depend upon the instrument and the building as it does with so much organ music, but nevertheless, I do think that “le plus vite possible” is not necessarily the best or only way for this splendid warhorse.

 

Since we appear, now, to be multi lingual, “nas vedenje”.

 

David Harrison

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While the eggheads among us have all busy recently discussing the Latin and Greek origins of the title of Mulet’s toccata, may I pick up on one solitary note from Gareth Perkins; fascinating as the various arguments are, I am equally, if not more intrigued by the way it is played, especially in respect of the tempo.

 

Most players seem to want to take it at a breakneck speed and one can certainly admire various performers’ techniques when it is heard this way. There is, however, a recording, I think, by Naji Hakim, who was organist, was he not, at Sacre-Coeur, taken at a very sedate pace. The effect, for me, is positively mesmeric and the pedal part begins at last to make its full effect. I am inclined to think that M. Hakim played it slowly from conviction and not because he couldn’t play it any faster. Is this his own view of the piece or is there a performing tradition handed down at SC?

 

Of course, a lot will depend upon the instrument and the building as it does with so much organ music, but nevertheless, I do think that “le plus vite possible” is not necessarily the best or only way for this splendid warhorse.

 

Since we appear, now, to be multi lingual, “nas vedenje”.

 

David Harrison

I couldn't agree more. Hakim's performance at Sacré-Cœur is in my opinion the best recorded version out there. Of course, it helps to have that organ in that unique acoustic, with a grinding pp full swell which would stop a herd of stampeding elephants in its track :) He is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent performers around and consequently considers tempi very carefully. Perhaps 'rock' has something to do with it. It certainly sounds like an inexorable and difficult 'build' in his performance, and what joy there is at the end as a result!

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Couldn't agree more ; less is more with all of these toccatas (and much other music besides).

 

My old teacher always told me off if I talked about 'speed' and insisted I refer to 'pace' instead. I think this is a good distinction.

 

At a slower speed / pace - within reason - you have the added excitement of the harmonic pulse of the piece, which gets lost in a blur if you take it too fast, also the cumulative, pulsing excitement of the repeated chords which, again, disappears if you take it too fast.

 

I find that the law of diminishing returns sets in very quickly as you increase the speed in a piece ; there may be a certain breakneck excitement if you can pull it off, but in my view, that rapidly becomes a 'so what' experience.

 

Having said that, it is often much harder to play these pieces steadily rather than at high speed ; it demands greater control and a rock steady (no pun intended) sense of rhythm.

 

By contrast, one must also avoid the danger of taking 'emotional' music too slow. I have recently bought Charles Mackerras' recording of the 4 last Mozart symphonies in which the 'slow' movements are taken quite briskly. They pack a much greater punch which arises from the increased sense of direction and line which, ironically, highlights harmonic tensions that do not arise at the slower speed. But that's the secret ; the power arises from the phrasing and the line as much as the sheer pace.

 

As with all these things, it is much easier to talk about than to do !

 

Best,

M

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Couldn't agree more ; less is more with all of these toccatas (and much other music besides).

Hear, jolly well hear! I am so pleased to read this; I was beginning to think I was the only soldier in step.

 

I expect those who know better will tell me I'm wrong, but it seems to me that, 40-50 years ago, performances of the Mulet were universally at a measured, inexorable tempo and that the fast performances prevalent today are a later development. Whilst the sheer technique of such performances can certainly be dazzling and breathtaking, the music itself so often ends up sounding superficial. For me, more measured performances tend to leave a far more powerful impression. The crucially important factor is not speed, but rhythm.

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Guest Roffensis

There is a lot of repetition going on in this piece so I believe, like many Toccatas, that it should be played slower than most do, to aid clarity. Hakim's recording is also my firm favourite, as the notes can be heard at a sensible pace.

 

R

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There is a lot of repetition going on in this piece so I believe, like many Toccatas, that it should be played slower than most do, to aid clarity. Hakim's recording is also my firm favourite, as the notes can be heard at a sensible pace.

 

R

 

Whilst I don't disagree, what would the amount of repetition have to do with dictating the pace for reasons of clarity? :blink:

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For what it's worth, the recordings I have in my CD collection clock at the following speeds:

 

4'23" 4'31" 4'34" 4'35" 4'41" 4'50" 4'59" 5'06" 5'16" 5'23" 5'39" 6'34"

 

While you didn't name names I am betting that (amazingly enough, considering the acoustics at Liverpool) both Noel Rawsthorne and Ian Tracey are right up there at the head of the pack ...

 

I have heard Rawsthorne play this live at Liverpool on more than one occasion and the overall effect was always a glorious blur of sound - not at all unpleasant but it would have been nice to hear a few more of the notes ...

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Guest Roffensis
Whilst I don't disagree, what would the amount of repetition have to do with dictating the pace for reasons of clarity? :blink:

 

 

Party action, whether it's up to it, and partly acoustic....reverb killing fast detail. The other thing is the repeated chords which are often heard as one when played fast. There are many contenders for the latter. There comes a point when a piece ceases to be musical, but rather a showpiece, at least for the player. Years ago, when I had this piece under my hands, I always did it slower than many, thought not as slow as Hakim.

 

R

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Party action, whether it's up to it, and partly acoustic....reverb killing fast detail. The other thing is the repeated chords which are often heard as one when played fast.

 

Yes, of course. Thanks. It was late last night when I posted, and I had just returned from a post choir rehearsal celebration in the local hostelry, so the brain cells were probably somewhat befuddled - even more so than usual! :blink:

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Guest Roffensis
Yes, of course. Thanks. It was late last night when I posted, and I had just returned from a post choir rehearsal celebration in the local hostelry, so the brain cells were probably somewhat befuddled - even more so than usual! :blink:

 

 

LOL! Lucky you!

 

All best,

 

R

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Obviously this all boils down to how you see the piece, but I have to disagree.

 

Where does "the rock" come into this piece? In my view (which is entirely a personal opinion without any authority whatsoever) it is all in that striding pedal part. It needs the same sort of solidity as the giant who previous generations imagined striding through Bach's Wir glauben all'. To my mind the power of the piece is generated by this firm foundation (on which the church is built). Tossed off at speed these majestic broken arpeggios just become perfunctory and meaningless.

 

Just my opinion.

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Obviously this all boils down to how you see the piece, but I have to disagree.

 

Where does "the rock" come into this piece? In my view (which is entirely a personal opinion without any authority whatsoever) it is all in that striding pedal part. It needs the same sort of solidity as the giant who previous generations imagined striding through Bach's Wir glauben all'. To my mind the power of the piece is generated by this firm foundation (on which the church is built). Tossed off at speed these majestic broken arpeggios just become perfunctory and meaningless.

 

Just my opinion.

 

Fair enough; however, David Poulter liked it; I still have the letter he wrote to me after my recital, in which he mentioned this piece. I do have a recording of the occasion, but I do not know of anyone with the facility to transfer reasonably good stereo cassette recordings to CD.

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... which is also fair enough. I was not aware of your performance and did not intend any personal criticism. In any case, I'm a fine one to talk since I haven't played the piece for very many years now. It really does need three manuals and my two-manual toaster discouraged me from keeping it up to scratch. (Having said that, there was a time when I used to play it regularly on a two-manual organ. Goodness only knows how!)

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Guest Roffensis
Fair enough; however, David Poulter liked it; I still have the letter he wrote to me after my recital, in which he mentioned this piece. I do have a recording of the occasion, but I do not know of anyone with the facility to transfer reasonably good stereo cassette recordings to CD.

 

 

You do surprise me!! I do!!.......

 

R

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