This month we hear from Australian pianist and composer Ian Munro about a CD that he simply can’t live without!
I have an admission to make: I have never been a big listener to recordings. From about the age of twelve, I spent only a small portion of my pocket money on records, but almost all the rest on model aeroplanes, art materials and sheet music. I’d rather go to a concert or play the stuff myself, and I still do. However, my old dad did collect an adequate record library, mainly through his World Record Club subscription, and I was introduced to one of my favourite pianists playing one of my favourite composers before I was a teenager.
Having an amateur pianist and Beethoven enthusiast as a father establshed Sturm und Drang in our house as a quotidian element, and dad’s deafness in one ear, together with his, shall we say, home-grown technique, meant that I not only knew and loved Beethoven from the time of my earliest memories, but the performances I mainly heard — those coming from down the hall as my brother and I went to sleep — were of a personal, quaint, rough, eccentric and flawed nature that never did anything to detract form the music for me. Quite the opposite, in fact, and I do occasionally wonder whether Percy Grainger felt the same way when he described hearing the “torrents of wrong notes” from the celebrated Eugène d’Albert, and was so impressed with the vigour and daring of it that he immediately went home to emulate him.
Of the three recordings we had of Beethoven’s sonatas, then — Artur Schnabel’s, Daniel Barenboim’s and Alfred Brendel’s — it was Schnabel’s wonky, whimsical account of 1934, suggestive in the pertuum mobile of the third movement ‘Allegretto’ not of the coming of vacuous Minimalism or the Age of the Machine (surely a reasonable influence for a modern German of the twentieth century) but the wooden spinning-wheel of ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, harking back to Beethoven’s own time (and Schubert’s, for that matter).
I do appreciate the other recordings mentioned, and would recommend also the superb interpretations of Richard Goode to anyone, but there are so may personal reasons why this recording, by only the second interpreter of Beethoven I ever heard, playing the first Beethoven sonata I ever properly learned, the first I ever recorded myself, remains my favourite.