Christina Fong

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About 2 weeks ago I took a mini road trip: eight hours alone on the open road. Normally, I listen to NPR while driving alone because talk radio seems to keep me more alert than music. That day I decided to listen to Chopin. Even though part of my CD collection, Chopin is not normally something I gravitate towards. My taste and work lies closer to more current music. In this case, a few nights before my road trip, I watched a very fine film named "Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada". One scene takes place in a bar in Mexico in which a young girl plays Chopin's Opus 10 Etude No. 3 on an out of tune piano. This occurs as a drunk and melancholy Tommy Lee Jones contemplates promises, love, death and life. For some reason that Chopin tune would not leave my mind and I felt the urge to listen to Chopin, especially since I really haven't listened to much of his work in recent years. I pulled out the only recording of Chopin piano works I own: the complete solo piano works as recorded by Vladimir Ashkenazy. This recording is a truly deep, unpretentious, effortless, unaffected object of beauty. I was moved by a perceived perception of "perfection" and "sincerity" on this recording; sentimental but not sappy, technically impressive without ostentatiousness. In spite of how much I enjoy this recording, the next day out of curiosity, I decided to visit iTunes and compare all available recordings of the Op. 10 No. 3 Etude in E Major I could find. Ashkenazy's was still, by far, my favorite one.

Though I didn't listen to everything on this 10 CD set that day, everything I listened to was as impressive as the next. I got home late that night and thought of how much of a feat it was to not only record ALL of Chopin's works, but to record them so incredibly well. I then looked through my CD collection to see what other Ashkenazy recordings there were ... complete solo Beethoven, solo Prokofiev, etc. etc. etc. I own many of his projects.

There were, and are, many talented musicians and many interesting ones. I love Glenn Gould; his persona, his ingenuity in overcoming obstacles, his embracing of new music, his attitude towards recording and performance and, of course, his amazing uniqueness. I think the man would have been an interesting painter, philosopher, writer, doctor, plumber, engineer, scientist, etc. I identify with him more than any other performer and perhaps have more respect for him than any other. Yet aside for his Schoenberg, which I think he plays better than anyone else, I don't like most of Gould's recordings. In all honesty I do not think of him as a musical genius, or at least not a natural. If I think of him as a genius at all, it is that he was a genius in solving and overcoming problems, and a real innovator.

Ashkenazy, someone whom I don't especially identify with, was able to move me and impress me so much with his recordings. It therefore came as a surprise to me, as I sat listening and contemplating the incredible quality and sheer magnanimity of his recording output; only a genius, a natural, could do this.