Saturday, December 04, 2004

Bruce Hungerford

The first classical piano recital I attended, age about 14 or 15, was by the Australian pianist Bruce Hungerford. It was held in a very small auditorium or the living room of a very large house. I attended with my father; I vaguely remember feeling as though we were very, very close to the piano.

All I remember about the makeup of the program is that it consistent entirely of several Beethoven piano sonatas. I played the flute and had had six months of piano lessons at that point, so I didn't know the music at all. I remember feeling awed by the complexity of the music and the intensity with which Hungerford played it.

And that was the last I heard of him, until earlier this year when I picked up a Hungerford CD at Berkshire Record Outlet (Vanguard Classics 08 6142 71) containing the "Waldstein," "Moonlight," and "Pathetique" sonatas.

Imagine my surprise, when I put this on for the first time (and second, and third) and discovered that I really did not like the playing very much. Technically, he's certainly able play the music: the notes are all there, cleanly played and at high speeds; he has good control of the pedal; he can play softly. But the playing is rigid to the point of being metronomic and he doesn't seem to me to have any special musical insights. Everything is correct; nothing is interesting. Every time I've tried to listen through, I take it off and put on a pianist I like better.

In Beethoven, and in no particular order, that would include Schnabel, Annie Fischer, Pollini, Heidsieck, Kovacevich, Richter, Gilels. I like dramatic, high-tension playing, and consequently Kovacevich gets the most air time.

So, tell me: should I look for other, more musicially impressive or representative Hungerford recordings? If so, what are they?

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