Saturday, November 17, 2012

Life or death

The recent arts programme 'Imagine' featuring the Chinese pianist Lang Lang included a moving interview with his father who, when Lang was just 9, became so angry at what he perceived his son's lack of commitment that he suggested he commit suicide.  Lang chose life, but imagine what must have gone through his young mind.  He worked hard and burnished what is now a formidable technique, but after that early experience music could never be life or death for him.  Some artists perform as though their lives depend on it.  Lang can be forgiven for perhaps always holding back.  At the age of 30 he has silenced his earlier critics who complained he was too much the show man.  That act is gradually giving way to a more thoughtful and sensitive pianist.  If Lang can ever find it in him to really let go, he could be one of the greats.  For now we must settle for an exceptionally gifted virtuoso who connects with many but still irritates others.  

So far, I have chosen fabulous performances and recordings of single pieces but this choice is the first collection by an artist: Lang Lang Live in Vienna (Sony 88697719012).  As I listen to Lang play Beethoven's Piano Sonata number 3 I marvel at his music making but also dream of what this amazing talent might one day achieve.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Immensely rewarding

It's tempting to think of much of Bartok's work as derivative country music, but that I guess is what happens if you devote much of your musical life researching Hungarian folk songs.  As a (very bad) clarinetist I got to know him through his folk songs as lots of budding woodwind players do, not realising how much more there was to discover.

It's true there are some gypsy elements to his 'second'* violin concerto and Kyung Wha Chung performing with the London Philharmonic at the Kingsway Hall in 1976 with Bartok's former student Georg Solti (DECCA 473 271-2) is certainly capable of transporting us to a gypsy camp fire, but this is no peasant entertainment.

It takes a bit of getting used to and it seems a bit weird at first, but if like me you would happily sit and listen to the great Korean playing a C major scale, the time invested is a) no hardship and b) immensely rewarding.

* his 'first' was never finished or recognised as such by him after he abandoned it when his muse spurned him

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Musical pedagogics

It would have been the obvious place to start, but better late than never.  Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra is a charming collection of variations on a theme by Purcell which at the same time provides a guided tour of the various sections of the orchestra.  It's value is, as the title suggests, more pedagogical than musical, but the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Simon Rattle (EMI 5 55394 2) brings a sensitivity to the piece that lifts it above the mundane and makes it a worthwhile addition to any collection.