Thursday, January 21, 2010
Beethoven : Piano Concerto No 5 - Bruno-Leonardo Gelber
There's something about Beethoven's Emperor concerto that seems to divide households. My father and mother were both fond of classical music, but with the proviso that my father found the string quartets which my mother favoured a little dull, while my mother made no secret of her opinion that anything with a blaring orchestra was vulgar. Her face, as my father put on Dvorák's New World symphony or Respighi's Pines of Rome was a study in distaste. It was the very face she put on when she absent-mindedly took a mouthful from a cup of tea that had long gone cold. I associate orchestral music with Saturday mornings, on which my father would get up early and play his symphonies and concertos while my mother lay on in bed, her normal reluctance to get up in the morning doubtless intensified by the prospect of going downstairs and facing the music.
The one thing she could not tolerate was swing, which was a shame because my father dearly loved it – Django Reinhardt, Stefan Grapelli and the boys especially. It was an eerie sound, the slap-wump slap-wump that sometimes came from the living room. It was the sound of my father, drumming on the arms of the armchair as he listened to swing on the headphones, a beatific smile on his face, in silence.
And I, in my turn, am married to a woman who tolerates my preoccupation with classical music, but who has never seen the attraction of washing the dishes to the accompaniment of some loud orchestral racket. It was watching her slight wince at the opening of Beethoven's Emperor concerto that made me remember Tony.
My uncle Tony hadn't the easiest of marriages, and I suspected sometimes that we saw him more frequently, just dropping in, when things were going less well at home.
The music I associate with him is Beethoven's Emperor concerto. On one of his impromptu visits, Tony told us how, one Summer evening, he had listened to it in his garden. On a whim, he had rigged up an extension cable and brought his gramophone out to the garden and put the record on. His next door neighbour, who had been out mowing the lawn, had stopped, brought out an armchair and sat there listening too.
In my mind, it is a perfect Saturday afternoon in the suburbs, and Tony and his neighbour, each in the armchairs they have carried out of their respective drawing rooms, are listening to the music as it rises into the air.
Did they listen to it all? I wish that they did.
Many years later, I realise that this is the only happy story I know about Tony, and I treasure it.
Bruno-Leonardo Gelber, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis
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