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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Sunday April 13 2008

I’m listening to a CD of the Riccardo Chailly/Concertgebouw version of Bruckner‘s Fifth Symphony, a piece that has been an obsession of mine ever since I chanced upon Christian Thielemann’s superb (I think) DGG recording of it.

Once again, I am enthralled.  But this time, it is not because I find Chailly’s to be an especially enthralling performance, although it does indeed sound well above averagely splendid to me.  No, what is giving the experience a special edge of excitement, not unlike that of attending a live concert, is that the CD is in an appalling state of decrepitude, and I am listening to it for the first time since I bought it, second hand.  Most second hand CDs work fine, and anyway, all the second hand CD dealers I deal with are extremely eager to stay on the right side of me, and will swap anything back if it doesn’t work properly.  So, I often don’t check the condition of CDs when I buy them.  I should, but often I don’t.  I didn’t check this Chailly Bruckner 5, for if I had, I would probably not have bought it.

So anyway, now that I have bought it, I put it on the machine anyway and hoped for the best.  And I’ve reached the fourth of the four movements, so far without any mishaps.

Normally when you listen to a CD, you know it’s going to be perfect, especially if it’s a conductor like Chailly conducting an orchestra like the Concertgebouw.  There will be no untoward squawks from the woodwind, no scrappy string playing, no out of place drum bangs, no obvious failures of ensemble.  The brass will be predictably magnificent, the chords impeccably – nay sumptuously - blended.  Which means that there is a fatal tendency for the ear and mind to wander.  It ought not to be so, but, with me, it is so.  When I am listening to a live performance, one of the things that keeps me listening is the possibility that something will go wrong. This is especially the case when a difficult concerto is being played by a new young soloist who may not be quite up to all its demands.  Well, nothing will go wrong with the Concertgebouw, I know that.  But the fact that my particular plasticated manifestation of this particular recording could go horribly wrong at any moment lends a whole new intensity to the experience of listening to this wonderful piece.

It occurs to me that perhaps some of the intense and to me inexplicably irrational loathing that some people still seem to feel for the late Herbert von Karajan is the result of the fact (if fact it was – I never witnessed his conducting live) that when you were at one of his concerts, you did not get that feeling you usually get, of a quarter of a per cent possibility of disaster, or indeed the feeling that things might go in any way differently to what Karajan had decided beforehand.  Listening to Karajan, that is to say, was like listening to a pristine Karajan CD.  Which is okay if it is a pristine Karajan CD, costing a tenner.  But not what everyone wants for their fifty quid in a concert hall.

Fingers crossed.  Still no catastrophes, and I do confess that my mind did wander a little during the last few minutes.  I was, after all, writing this.

Aaaaargh!!!  A blemish.  Half way through the final movement.  Clickety click.  Not bad enough to bring the whole thing to a grinding halt, but ... clickety bloody click.  Damn damn damn.  I took it out, cleaned it, and tried again from just before where it happened.  Still there.  And I fear there will be more because some of the scratches are circular in direction rather than spoke-like, if you get my meaning.  Circular ones are the worst, because they blot out a whole gob of what the machine is trying to read.  It’s the difference between an easy little fence for a horse, or a huge fence involving a great stretch of water.

Finished, with no further horrors.  I then really cleaned it, and the blemish is less bad, in fact hardly detectable.  It’s just that a fraction of a second of this marvellous music goes missing.  Infuriating.  Now that I’ve been listening to this recording, really listening to it, I find that it is truly excellent, and I want to own it in pristine form.  I will keep a particular eye out for another second hand copy.  It really is very good.  Buying it again, at full price, would just be too sad.

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