Magazine article The Spectator

Music Collecting Compulsion

Magazine article The Spectator

Music Collecting Compulsion

Article excerpt

About 30 years ago, not long before he died, my father bought an LP of Sir Clifford Curzon playing Schubert's last piano sonata, in B flat D960. He was slightly defensive about the purchase. You see, he already had a record of Alfred Brendel playing the same piece. 'It's a bit of an extravagance,' he said, 'but I think in this case it's worth it.'

Of course it was worth it! First, the B flat sonata touches the sublime in almost every bar. I was so lucky that, thanks to my father's impeccable taste, it was one of the first pieces of classical music I got to know after we bought our first stereo in the early 1970s.

Second, Curzon's reading is the perfect foil to Brendel: while the Austrian relishes the sonata's architecture, the Englishman finds in it a reticent and delicate spirituality.

I wish I could say that my father and I listened to the two versions together, comparing the interpretations; alas, we didn't have that kind of relationship. A few years ago, however, I organised a blind tasting of my recordings of D960 for a music buff friend.

We sampled Schnabel, Kempff, Curzon, Richter, Brendel, Barenboim, Lupu, Schiff, Rangell, Hough and Kovacevich (though not Annie Fischer, Sofronitsky, Horowitz, Sodergren, Uchida, Andsnes or Stadtfeld, because those I've acquired more recently).

And he chose Curzon - not the familiar studio recording but an even more delicate and not entirely secure live performance from the Salzburg Festival.

I can hear my father snorting. What self-indulgence! No one needs that many recordings! Typical Damian, 'using music like a drug', as he once put it. But he died before compact discs came on to the market; he couldn't have foreseen how fabulously cheap classical music would become during the long twilight of the CD. When he bought that Schubert LP, it cost him [pounds]40 in today's money. For that price you can now buy 24 discs of Curzon's complete Decca recordings.

'Using music like a drug.' That stung because it was true: I'd let it wash over me, anaesthetising my hangovers. Since then I've improved my musical hygiene. I try to give CDs my full attention. Schubert's B flat sonata contains ideas so potent that owning 15 good performances allows you to view it from 15 different angles - a privilege no previous generation has enjoyed. Last week I picked up a recording by Valery Afanassiev, a little-known Russian who lingers perversely over passages, terracing the dynamics in a manner that suggests a transcription of Bruckner. …

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