Pianist Joseph Moog has added a tenth recording to his discography: the complete Chopin sonatas, soon to be released on the Onyx Classics label. He shares his experiences in the studio, and reveals his passion for collecting unusual scores. By Claire Jackson.
Tell me about your latest recording project.
I’ve recorded the complete Chopin sonatas – just three, in this case. It’s a wonderful set but there have not been many recordings, and none in the past five years, to my knowledge. The first sonata has never really made it to the concert stage, whereas two and three are better known. I thought it would be nice to put them all together on one CD to discover the development of the musical language.
Why has the first sonata been so neglected?
It’s not what people expect from a work by Chopin; it’s a lot more chromatic and he used more chords than in his later oeuvre. In fact, it’s closer to Beethoven and Weber. Chopin was 17 when he wrote it.
Is it often dismissed as ‘youthful experimentation’, then?
It’s an early work but we’re still talking about one of the geniuses of musical history – I think it’s fascinating to see what Chopin did before we consider ‘typical Chopin’. We mainly think of Chopin’s writing in the short form: the Etudes, Barcarolles and Mazurkas, but he did like a bigger canvas – look at the cello sonata [Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65].
This will be your tenth recording – congratulations!
I love recording – both live and studio recording. It’s helped me a lot as an artist. Listening to yourself is key because you have to reflect on what you’re doing. It’s difficult to listen and play at the same time; it’s almost like a division into two people, observer and performer. I learn so many things from the recordings I make: sometimes the sound that you create is not what you had imagined! It’s like listening to your voice on a recording.
I don’t enjoy listening back to my voice when I’m transcribing interviews…
Sometimes it can be uncomfortable but it’s an important learning technique. With a recording, you can chase for the ideal version, which is different to performing in a concert hall. I’ve tried many approaches over the years. One of the main things that I’ve learned is the piano sounds different when you are 100 metres away from it. So, although you may feel as though you are exaggerating expressivity while you are playing, this actually gives nuance to the music. Of course, you have to do that without destroying or manipulating the original material.
And although you already have an impressive discography, we should point out that you’re still in your twenties.
Yes, I’m 28. My first CD was not a commercial one. It was a private recording that has not been released through any label. It was a gift from one of my aunts, who arranged for me to use a studio and get a feeling for recording. That was when I was 13 years old, in 2001. I went and just played the pieces. I think this was a key experience as it allowed me to record without any pressure.
You’re a very creative programmer – the Chopin disc is a case in point – and you’ve got a growing reputation for performing unusual repertoire.
I have a passion – or weakness! – for collecting scores. My bookshelves complain every day. I’m in the process of digitising my library so that I can have it with me anywhere in the world. As well as scores I collect books, LPs – and anything related to music: mainly classical, but also jazz.
You’ve played at Husum’s Rarities of Piano Music festival, which is dedicated to non-mainstream repertoire.
I was there last month [August 2016] – it was my third visit. Husum is the Mecca for collectors. It’s a source of new discovery and highly fascinating exchanges. There are some very interesting and very special people there. I really enjoy meeting the audiences and it’s an honour to be accepted. It’s like one of those ancient clubs from the nineteenth century. I love the fact that it’s so international; people come from very remote places. It’s nice to know that people have the same passion.
What’s the most interesting artefact in your collection?
That’s a tough question. There are so many things that I haven’t performed publicly. The rarest work I have collected and recorded is on my Scarlatti CD (Scarlatti Illuminated). It’s Walter Gieseking’s Chaconne on a theme by Scarlatti [track 8]. I was given the manuscript by a collector who did not know how unusual it was.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility for these overlooked works?
Sometimes, collecting doesn’t make sense from an ordinary perspective. I have been called in several situations when collectors have sadly died and left behind collections of scores. The financial investment in those pieces is rarely returned; you can’t play most of them on stage. So there are these libraries that are only useful to a small group of people. I hope to transport some of these works into the future.
Joseph Moog‘s recording of The Complete Chopin Sonatas will be released on 23 September via Onyx Classics. Available to buy here.