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Sunday, 4 March 2012

Making a fool of myself

HOW CAN YOU TELL?
Part four.

Judging a pianist’s performance. Not like this! Let me repeat: self-embarrassment is the sternest tutor.

Cleaning the Neff oven involved dismantlement; re-assembly was a nightmare. Covered in black grease, knees aching, whimpering at the mystery, I cleaned myself up, changed my clothes and we drove to Malvern to hear Paul Lewis do Schubert.

Lewis is one of our heroes but my mind lingered on the ratchet holding the heating element to the oven roof. The programme started with a group of sixteen German dances which I didn’t know or like. They must have been very short. Lewis stopped but remained seated at the Yamaha. Some latecomers shuttled in, bent like crabs. For a foolish moment I thought he’d interrupted the dances to let in the latecomers.

He resumed and I still imagined I was listening to the rest of the dances. But when he stopped this time it was the interval. What I’d thought were dances included a shortish allegretto and (unforgivably) piano sonata 14 which, in my own defence, I didn’t know. Mrs LdP was sympathetic and gave me a Minto.

We remained seated as I contemplated my inadequacies with ovens and Schubert. I wondered gloomily whether I knew the forthcoming (latish) sonata 16. But after three notes I knew I knew it. A huge, wide ranging piece ending with a trio and a rondo. Finally, I could listen to some music. Lewis’s especial virtue is clarity which may seem strange. Isn’t all piano-playing “clear”? No, if notes overlap it ceases to be a piano, just a piano-type sound. He is expert at shaping passages, giving them individuality – phrasing in fact. The Neff became mere theory.

Back home we drank a burgundy from under the stairs.

11 comments:

Plutarch said...

Without claiming to recognise with any degree of intimacy the music you describe so well, the Burgundy from under the stairs has a resonance(a word too often used nowadays I dare say) all of its own. Details of the étiquette are uncharacteristically missing.

Lucas said...

I do value clarity in sonata-playing yet sometimes find it can detract from the feeling element. When I listen to Andras Schiff playing Schubert I always feel it is somehow too lieteral and perfect. Whereas Wilhelm Kempf involves me as a listener much more. Is this because Andras Schiff is somehow asking for a more advanced level of listening from his audience? Or is it because Kempf was better? Or is it because Schiff is using an original bussendorfer piano which has less resonance than a modern piano?

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Plutarch: In a sense the Burgundy represented another example of my making a fool of myself. It was one of a quartet of Volnays (négociant I believe to be Drouhin) which I ordered some years ago, only to discover that they wouldn't be fit to drink until some time hence. Ever since I entered my seventies I have ceased buying for the future since although I love my daughters dearly the idea of them, post-mortem, dividing up my cellar has always seemed abhorrent. Nevertheless I welcome your question. If I'm given to the sin of omission with such a simple matter as wine, how much more likely will I sin over the complexities of music?

Lucas: Gosh, you've packed in an awful lot here. As with composers and their works, one is often influenced inordinately by the first encounter. Schiff has a place in my profile preferences, but only as a Bach executant whereas Kempff is embedded in my mind because of the plaudits he wom - many years ago in the LP days - for the two late Mozart concerti.

As to different makes of piano I suspect my hearing, by now, is not up to distinguishing between them. Paul Lewis played the Schubert at Malvern as part of a series arranged by Yamaha and this is the third year running we've heard him (and other first rate pianists). Somehow the Yamaha, with its seeming brighter sound, was more suited to Beethoven, less so for Schubert, but I trust Lewis's integrity and feel he wouldn't have taken part if the instrument had worried him.

I note you refer to the Bösendorfer as being less resonant. A jazz enthusiast I knew put it a different way ("less aggressive") and said it was the reason he liked Oscar Peterson.

At the level Schiff, Lewis and Kempff play (past tense in the case of the latter) I don't think I'd use the word "better". It's more often a case of different interpretations which may or may not turn you on. And since we're marching in step (if for different reasons) with two of these giants, may I recommend you give Lewis a try some day.

earlybird said...

I can't comment on the music but I'm impressed that cleaning in the daP household involves dismantling the oven.

(It really is spring then?)

I think anyone who's prepared to have a shot at re-assembling an oven deserves a bottle of Volnay. At the very least.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

EB: Let's get things straight. This is a Neff oven, echt deutsch. With its glass hob (It changed Mrs LdP's life.) it cost £1600 almost ten years ago. It is not for cissies: users are required to take a post-graduate course in Tubingen while those who clean it can get away with two weeks spent on the Mercedes-Benz apprenticeship scheme.

Even so I get things wrong. To clean the ceiling of the oven, it is necessary to hinge down the electrical element and at this point we must break off to consider the mindset of the typical German designer. Given two possible solutions to any mechanical requirement - one simple, one complex - the German designer always goes for the complex option. It proves his manhood. Aware of this I detached the element's securing catch, knowing it would be an absolute bastard to replace. It was. But the GD had fooled me. The catch could have been left in situ. Ahhh...

But that wasn't all. To improve access to the oven it is necessary to remove the door. This proved to be moderately difficult. But replacing it was far, far harder. Mainly due to the fact that the door's powerfully sprung hinges are virtually buried in the metalwork and their true function is impossible to determine externally. In this instance, the GD had opted for the complex alternative.

No it's not spring. But you will remember I suffered a lung-y problem earlier this year (celebrated in a sonnet) and I am now in the recovery phase whereby I am overtaken by coughing fits more or less on the hour and powerful enough to menace the soles of my shoes. This phase lasts for two months and is exacerbated by, inter alia, the smoke from an uncleaned oven. Thus I was cleaning the Neff out of self-interest.

You are in luck. You are far too young to consider owning a Neff. Should you wish to, eventually, you'll need to develop profound philosophical resources that cannot be disturbed by - say - a mere importunate bird.

earlybird said...

Ouf!

A most impressive description.

I have had two Neff ovens in the past but clearly NOT in the category of Mrs LdP's. I seem to remember they were quite reasonable in price terms and I can honestly say that it never, ever occurred to me to take them apart to clean them. (Nor has it with any subsequent oven)

Not being of a philosophical bent (understatement), I shall bear your advice in mind and steer clear of them. Most grateful for the warning.

I hope the scent of the oven cleaner 'burning off' doesn't bring on a paroxysm of coughing...

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

EB: I could have gone on, but now I can't. Just for once I wanted to be a techie again (dreams of BB and WW) and now it looks as if all I wanted to do was boast. I mean you'd have known you had the door of a £1600 oven if you'd tried to lift it. It weighs a ton.

Honest, the instruction book - written by Germans for Germans and translated into English as an act of mere commercial tokenism - told me I HAD to do that dismantling. Are you implying I'm weak-willed as well as foolish with my money?

It bakes wunderbare seed cake (deutsch). Does that get me off the hook?

earlybird said...

Well... I suppose as long as it ... it's a long time since I had seed cake... does it have caraway confits on top?

Actually, I'm DEAD impressed at anyone who can reassemble anything they've dismantled.

earlybird said...

that should read 'so long as it works...'

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

EB: I was going to bring this exchange to a close but honesty forces me to add one more confession. Yesterday afternoon we set off to see the latest offering in the local film festival (The Mysteries of Lisbon which lasted 4 hr 26 minutes - good but tiring) and Mrs LdP put a lasagne into the oven, timed to cook for our return. The Neff features telescoping rack supports (which cost £60 in themselves) which allow massively heavy stews, contained in the massively heavy le Creuset casserole, to be safely slid out and examined. Needless to say these had to be detached for the cleaning and it turns out I put them back slightly cock-eyed so that any cookees are slightly tilted to the left. A simple adjustment, you say. And I laugh wryly at the word "simple".

earlybird said...

It really is an 'all singing and dancing' oven, isn't it.

I hope the lasagne didn't suffer from being cooked on a slant? (Even if it was a leftish slant)