Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alexis Weissenberg and overcoming first impressions

I have mentioned before in this blog that I appreciate both the control of being able to hear whatever I want, whenever I want, thanks to my iPod; AND giving up control of my listening to the local classical stations (WGBH 99.5 and sometimes WHRB 95.3), as I often discover pieces or performers I didn't know about.  This happened a few days ago when I was in my car and heard a wonderful performance of the Chopin 2nd Piano Concerto slow movement, but didn't know who it was.  It turned out to be Alexis Weissenberg, somewhat of a surprise to me since I had decided many years ago (decades in fact) that I didn't like his playing.  As a kid I remember owning two LP's, one of some Bach ( I can't remember what it was) and the other a recording of the Brahms Violin Sonatas with Anne-Sophie Mutter.  I didn't like either, and so I hadn't bothered to listen to him ever since.

Now having spent a short time perusing recordings of Weissenberg that people have uploaded to Youtube, I can say that he is great, but perhaps not 100% of the time.  I heard some wonderful Chopin and Rachmaninov, but also a dry Bach Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue that lacked fantasy.  But in any case I am glad for the discovery that, despite my first impression years ago, there is wonderful artistry to be heard from among his many recordings (Weissenberg died quite recently, on my birthday in fact - the New York Times obituary is here).

I know this is hardly news, but first impressions are powerful - maybe too powerful!  I remember that the first time I heard the Mahler Fourth Symphony, I thought the 3rd movement was boring (granted, I was in middle school at the time).  Now I love it so much that I would have it played at my funeral, if possible.  (That probably won't work out since it requires a whole orchestra, but my other top choice for music at my funeral is the slow movement of the Schubert C major Quintet).  I also remember, once upon a time, not liking the Richter's playing, or foods like avocadoes, ikura (salmon roe), or anchovies, all things I love now.  But I wonder if there are other things to which I need to give a second or third chance - am I missing out on something because of a bad first impression?

A piece of practical advice: if you are a student auditioning for a conservatory, always start with your best piece.  Many students seem to think they are somehow obliged to start with Bach (don't know where this idea came from), but if that isn't your best piece, start with something else.  That first impression, even within a 15-20 minute audition can change the way we hear you the rest of the time. 

Here is the Rachmaninov Sonata #2, 1st Movement, played by Alexis Weissenberg (who, as it turns out, bears some resemblance to Rachmaninov, I think!)

1 comment:

ศาลาธรรม said...

Duffer that I am, I had never heard of him, but enjoyed the blog, his playing, and the obit. Sounds like he was true to himself, a really good thing.