I asked Simon (the Other Half of 20 years, for those unaware who he is) whether he’d read my post telling the story of how he and I met on a blind date.
“I never read your blog,” he said without missing a beat. “Reading your blog would be like me rifling through your mum’s handbag.”
Disappointing, I thought. First no flowers. No card. Now this.
So, I opened the post on my iPad and got him to read it.
I didn’t really expect him to snivel at the end. I didn’t expect to snivel in sympathy either.
A special moment. The kind of reaction flowers were never going to trigger.
By and large, Friday nights follow a set routine. Get home. Clear up. Clean sheets on the bed. Open a bottle of cheap cava. Settle down on the sofa.
It’s Friday nights when we listen to music. Of late we’ve listen to too little. But, this Friday night I wanted Simon to listen to Leif Oves Andsnes’s recording of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic (find it on the latest Thoroughly Good Spotify Playlist).
It’s a surprisingly new discovery (given that the recording was released in 2012) but it does come with a cast-iron guarantee.
I first heard it a week last Friday, the morning after the Philharmonia’s gig with Tchaikovsky Competition silver medal winner George Li playing the Rachmaninov concert. Close in to the band I heard all sorts of different things I’d not heard before. A real treat.
The morning after, a painter, a plumber, and a carpenter occupied our lounge doing their work, whilst I sat upstairs in the office listening to the slow movement through a portable bluetooth speaker, snivelling uncontrollably at ten o’clock in the morning dressed in my pyjamas. There was something in this recording – I don’t normallh cry in my pyjamas.
Suitably spurred on, I tried to play the slow movement to Simon the same night but (forgive the achingly middle-class detail here), Bento’s delivery service arrived a good deal earlier than either of us had anticipated. We’d started but we never finished. Quite disappointing.
So I tried again Friday night just gone. “Listen to the melody when it comes back towards the end of the second movement,” I explained to Simon, conscious I might be trampling on a moment of discovery for him, “it’s the strings that turn me into a thick sauce.”
I wasn’t wrong. They sounded even better on the JBL 4410s in the living room. A sort of delicate hard-fought aching quality that summed up all the yearning any human being could possibly bear and then some.
There were other delights I hadn’t heard in this recording before now. There’s a leanness to the sound – I can hear both a large scale symphony orchestra and a string quartet all at the same time. That means the entire thing lacks the usual syrupy-ness. A leaner more sinewy sound reveals the complexities of the orchestral accompaniment – the aural equivalent of having a chance to look under the bonnet.
The first movement is prompt, keeping sentimentality at bay, with a tight fluid conclusion that’s gratifyingly barky and growly.
The beginning of the third movement provides much-needed mischievousness to the heartache of what went before. And it’s tight, oh so very tight, which, because of that intimate sound, makes everything feel all the more visceral.
The return of the main theme at the end lacks the usual self-indulgence. We all of us head towards to a swift but well-deserved triumphant conclusion.
Simon was converted. I suddenly wanted to discover more by the pianist. Fortunately there’s a lot to get through, including a 2017release of solo works by Sibelius. Tantalising.
Leif Oves Andsnes has two new fanboys.