Contemporary classical is the biggest turnoff in the music rack. Most people seem to think it is either going to hurt their brains with complex theorems or numb their ears with repetitive simplicity. Often, they are right. Sometimes, they are missing out.
Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) was an Argentine-German double exile who could not resist poking sticks at the sacred cows of classical music. In Ludwig van, a 20-minute piece for small ensemble, he takes fragments of Beethoven’s most famous works and juxtaposes them with intrusive noises, bad singing, running water, false solemnity and all the tricks that post-modern art uses to smash the glass cases of museum culture. As a piece of satire, Ludwig van is an important statement, all the more timely at the dawn of the Verdi-Wagner year. As a piece of music, it is good fun. As a work of art, you just want to own it.
I would have given the album five stars for the pleasure it has give me, but for a sudden anxiety that men in white coats might come to drag me away
Composers like Kagel, who live outside safe categories, live in the hope that a major star will play their esoteric stuff. Kagel got lucky. He ran into the hot French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, a Chopin specialist who is not afraid of novelty or things that go bump on the floor. Among other delights on this thrillingly wacky album is a work for metronome and piano and another, perversely, for three hands. I would have given the album five stars for the pleasure it has give me, but for a sudden anxiety that men in white coats might come to drag me away for liking such forbidden stuff.
Artist: Alexandre Tharaud (piano)
Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.