Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A Chetham's Diary: Wednesday 22 August 2007

Wednesday 22 August

This morning, BM reads a couple of my Straits Times reviews for the class, commenting on the style of writing and content, while elucidating on pianists and piano-playing in general. I had picked two of my more controversial articles – the Arcadi Volodos recital and the infamous Tedd Joselson 30th anniversary concert. He is very complimentary (“very lively” and “full of enthusiasm” were his descriptions) and liked the way I began and closed each review, while adding that TJ would not be very pleased for describing his Rach 3 as “running on empty”. Needless to say, I’m chuffed.

What happens when a critic gives a negative review for an artist? He is usually unforgiven, even for decades after the fact. BM cited Peter Donohoe who keeps bringing up “You never liked my Ravel, did you?” after delivering a missive on his deadpan Scarbo in the 1970s. He also gets certain vibes here and there from Howard Shelley, who remains always courteous otherwise.
Ronald Stevenson talks about Busoni

The venerable Ronald Stevenson gives the second of his two talks on the great Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni. Yesterday, his 1970s BBC documentary Busoni: Harlequin and Faust was aired at Whiteley Hall. This is one of those ultra-serious shows that is so packed with scholarship and intellectual matter on a not-to-be-trifled-with composer that it is impossible to absorb in one sitting. Nowadays, nothing goes on air unless it comes with some blind-as-a-bat Italian crooner or bikini-unclad violinists. Unfortunately such programmes (Busoni, I mean) get aired once in thirty years or so. Naturally I take a snooze in it and miss out on the juicy bits.

Question time. Being the devil’s advocate, I asked Ronald Stevenson whether there were any pieces by Busoni he felt were weaker than his usual best. Came his indignant reply, “And what is the purpose of that question?” I suggested that even geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven had their off days, and probably so did Busoni. He paused for a while and added, “There are no such pieces. Next question please.” Spoken like a true acolyte!

Afterwards I spy a thoughtful Peter Donohoe sitting on his own, and requested that he autograph my small collection of CD booklets (of his recordings) I had brought all the way from Singapore. He blithely replied that he hadn’t the time and continued to stare into space. I am rather disappointed. Only two other musicians had declined my solicitations – Sergiu Celibidache and Evgeny Svetlanov, who were both old and infirm at the time (and both died soon after that). So what’s PD’s excuse? Fatness and laziness?

The "timeless" Peter Donohoe,
looking like a rabbit caught between cross-hairs.

This evening I get to hear two senior students perform and they are both excellent. Evan Mitchell, who studies with Arnaldo Cohen in Indiana, performed Brahms’ First Sonata in C major (Op.1) bringing out the exuberant and youthful brio that suggested the impressionable young German had learnt his Beethoven (notably the Hammerklavier) and Schubert (the Wanderer Fantasy) well. I’ll go as far to say his impassioned and vigourous reading has, for me, effaced the overwrought performance that Dmitri Alexeev gave in Singapore in 2003. Next up is the aforementioned Christopher White, who blew my mind again, this time in Ronald Stevenson’s transcription of Mahler’s Adagio from the unfinished Tenth Symphony. No piano could possibly replace the orchestra, but the colours suggested in this performance are tantalising enough, and White delivered trumps again.

After the evening recital by Graham Scott, I hear James Pollock, an accountant whose obsession is to master the tremolos of Vallee d’Obermann, perform Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat major. Ong Wan Ping, the Malaysian waif, played Khachaturian’s Toccata while I struggled through two more Schubert Impromptus on the Steinway at the English Room. We all exchange mutual pats on the back and the evening’s done.

James Pollock plays Schubert


Peter said...

Dear Chang Tou Liang, I seem to have offended you deeply, for which I apologise very sincerely. I do not remember your asking me to sign your CDs, and I certainly have no reason to have refused to do so in such a rude way as you report. I can only think that I was awaiting the arrival of someone with whom I was due to rehearse, or something of that nature, and was distracted by some worry or other. However, but I do not remember the occasion so I can only speculate. Whatever the reason, there is no justification for my apparent dismissal, so I hope you can find it within you to accept my apology. I have just returned from the 2009 Chetham's Summer School, and it was, as always a great overall success. I have enjoyed reading your diary very much, and am very touched by your enthusiasm for everything that you hear and experience. I hope I can give you a more pleasant experience of meeting me one day than you had in 2007. I have, by the way, lost a little weight since then.

Chang Tou Liang said...

Oh my Gawd, its you, Peter!

Thanks for taking the trouble to write. You are so forgiven. Both Noriko and Bryce ahd told me, "This is so unlike Peter". Now I believe them.

Now I can also end that silly Donohoe boycott of mine, and begin listening to your CDs and add to my Naxos British piano concertos collection.

But be warned: the next time we meet, there will be far more CDs to autograph! Ta!