18 January 2019

raw Beethoven

Got access to a trial subscription of Amazon's Music Unlimited. Their library has massively expanded since I last looked; seems like most recordings ever made are there now. Like a kid in a candy store. Loads of good stuff, some not so good.
Good. Alfred Brendel playing Liszt, especially the Années de pèrelinage. The apotheosis of Romanticism.
Not so good. Glenn Gould. Playing Bach. I'm thinking, I would literally rather hear this played by a computer.

Of course, computerised renditions of classical music, particularly Bach, have been with us for some time. The original one dates from 1968, Switched-On Bach by Wendy (formerly Walter) Carlos, and now curiously almost unobtainable. But there are good examples on YouTube, just search for "synthesiser Brandenburg".

Via Amazon, I discover there are now computerised renditions of Beethoven sonatas, by an outfit called Berlin Virtual Symphonics working in association with Edgar Höfler. BVS seem to have started life as composers for computer games. I find these robotic versions very appealing; they lay bare the genius of the music without distraction by frills or personal interpretation. Sure, personal interpretation can be nice, and Brendel does it very well, but there is something to be said for stripped-down Beethoven.

The thing works remarkably well (except for trills, which sound like bad data on a CD), presumably because piano sound samples have reached the point of being close-to-perfect. There must have been a lot more to it than merely scanning the scores, and I congratulate BVS and Mr Höfler on an excellent job.

Long-time readers will know that I take a particular interest in Chopin players. Having got bored with Rubinstein's interpretation of the Nocturnes, I scanned the Amazon catalogue for alternatives. A lot of them are pleasant enough, but the only one that pressed my buttons, in a good way, is by Turkish pianist Fazil Say. Highly individualistic, sometimes a little fast, but faithful to Chopin's Slavonic bittersweet. Mr Say's performances of Mozart are also refreshingly different, and a real joy — though, judging by Amazon reviews, not everyone's cup of tea.

Mr Say is a prize-winning composer, and his moving Istanbul Symphony is worthy of serious attention — a comment I rarely feel tempted to make about post-war orchestral compositions. Incidentally, Say seems to have aroused the wrath of the Turkish government for certain comments deemed to be critical of Islam; you can read about it on Wikipedia.