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Six years ago Malcolm Bilson released Knowing the Score (included here), an absorbing investigation into how Urtext editions can be more accurately interpreted to produce performances that are not merely more ‘authentic’ but also more expressively potent and passionate. Now he has returned to the fray with Performing the Score, with the assistance of violinist Elizabeth Field. This time they talk and perform direct to camera, opening with an introduction that puts the whole Urtext issue in context, demonstrating how modern preconceptions of how music should be played were shaped in various ways that had little to do with a composer’s original intentions. Bilson then goes on to talk specifically about early pianos and their essential differences when compared with the modern Steinway (including the problems with cross-stringing), which he illustrates tellingly at one point with some Mozart he recorded live on a Steinway when was a student back in 1965.

Field then takes over, demonstrating with good humour how she first came to discover the revelation of using a baroque violin (playing the Sibelius Concerto!) and the profound differences between an authentic set-up and its modern counterpart.

Particularly fascinating are discussion-demonstrations regarding performance issues surrounding Mozart’s K378 Violin Sonata and the opening movement of Schumann’s A minor Violin Sonata. Further enlightenment is gained from Nicholas Kenyon and Kristian Bezuidenhout, who put period instrument practice in its contemporary context. All in all, this is a feast for the mind, ear and eye that deserves the widest circulation.

JULIAN HAYLOCK Read the full review on Agora Classica


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