Ends and beginnings

I was sorry to read this morning of the death of pianist Leon Fleisher, even if the obits would have you believe that his greatest achievement was being able to play with one hand. I have owned his recording of the Beethoven Concerti for many years, performed with the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of George Szell, and it is one of my favourite sets of discs, crisp, clear, energetic, poised and precise. It also happened to be the first box that went into the Audi’s multichanger, which says something about how much I enjoy it.

Given that the recordings were made in the 60s I had rather assumed that Fleisher had gone to that great concert hall in the sky some time ago, but I was still sad to read the news, although it was balanced by the celebration of Gundula Janowitz’s 83rd birthday yesterday. Hers is still the Four Last Songs to have, I believe, and I caught her in recital right at the end of her career, the front row shockingly empty apart from me and my colleague.

Her voice may have had a touch more noise around the edges then, but she still knew how to perform, and her accompanist’s use of the piano pedals transformed my technique. My colleague and I went on to celebrate the whole thing in suitably hedonistic style, and the bits I can remember are some of my favourite memories.

At the other end of the musical scale was the news that one of my favourite bands, Del Amitri, are, in fact, not dead at all but have instead signed a new recording deal with an album to come next year. Of course, at this point the initial jubilation is swiftly replaced by trepidation, the worry that they might have burned out a long time ago, but we shall see.

Certainly their last album, Can You Do Me Good?, seemed tired more than anything else, the sound of a band that had had a decent shot at it but had more or less run out of steam. There is that line about Look at me, standing with my tattered pride of toothless little lions, the song called Last Cheap Shot At The Dream, and it all felt like one album too many, but Soundgarden came back sounding better than ever, so the Dels could probably do it as well. I wonder, though, if I have left their world-weary cynicism behind, not something I thought that I would ever think.