Christmas decorations are starting to come out, mince tarts are in the supermarket aisle, the Hallelujah Chorus is ringing out in the concert hall. It must be December already but I can’t quite believe it. That strange paradox of the year going very quickly and very slowly all at the same time.
Music is all about time. No performance is ever metronomic, that would sound inhuman, we get a little faster here, a little slower there. The technical term for this ebb and flow is rubato, which means ‘stolen’, taking a little time in one phrase but giving it back in another, so the overall pace of the piece is not disturbed. It is a fine balance and I think should be used sparingly.
Recently I had to conduct a performance of the slow movement of the New World Symphony by Dvořák and I listened to a few recordings to remind myself of how it goes. The duration of the recordings ranged from eight and a half to over 13. The slowest recording felt like a funeral march, the brass had to take a breath every bar to get through it,...