My wife has been ill since yesterday, so I have been busily washing-up, cleaning the house and entertaining children. I wish I could pretend that my motives were entirely altruistic, but if it's a virus I may be a day or two behind and need to ensure that I receive the appropriate level of care when my wife recovers.
I was going to take my sons out, but the weather has been terrible. Instead, I'm ashamed to say that that are both playing computer games while I've been comparing different performances of a piano composition by Bartok called, ironically, 'Out of Doors'.
When I first became interested in music (which curiously coincided with the onset of puberty), it was very difficult to listen to a recording before I bought it. I suppose I could have asked the man in Richmond Records to give me a quick blast, but he had mastered the art of condescension to the point where I was too scared to even ask for a bag. As a result, I was completely dependent on the wonderful Penguin Stereo Record Guide, written by Edward Greenfield, Robert Layton and Ivan March.
At an age when I should have been snogging or drinking 'snakebite', I was more likely to be found checking which version of Tapiloa was Robert Layton's recommended recording. My youth was not so much mispent, as unspent (at least, until university).
The Penguin guide was usually spot-on, but occasionally I'd be disappointed to discover that so-and-so's performance was much slower or faster than expected and I was unable to listen to the music without a nagging sense of regret. If only I'd had access to YouTube, perhaps I might have learned to realise that every approach has its merits.
For example, here are four performances of Bartok's 'Out of Doors' suite. If you try the first 40 seconds of each, you'll hear some very different approaches to the music.
In the first extract, once the pianist has made himself comfortable and checked that he hasn't lost his bus ticket, he delivers plays with an almost machine-like tempi, but at least you can hear all of the notes:
It's a solid, rather unexciting performance, but he's a dab hand (or foot) with the pedals. However, I prefer the next version, where the faster tempi produce a greater sense of urgency:
Much better, although he's a little to free and easy with the sudden, brief changes of tempo. I really like the next version too:
Fast and very percussive, with a real sense of momentum. However, the faster speed results in a loss of detail in the passage around 25 seconds - he could take a few tips on pedal use from the Clive James lookalike in the first clip.
Finally, this performance takes a very different approach. It probably doesn't help that the pianist left his glasses at home and has to lean very close to the keyboard:
This is one of the ways in which I waste my time on wet weekend afternoons when everyone else is occupied. I've also been reading Angelica Bell's autobiography (thanks to the person who recommended it in one of the comments).
I was enjoying a guilt-free afternoon. I'd built up credits this morning by going shopping in Lewes, emptying the dishwasher twice, playing Monopoly with my son and doing domestic chores, but daring to write this blog post has tipped me back into the guilt zone. There are still unwashed plates and two children who need to be dragged away from cyberspace.
How long is it until their bedtime?