On Friday March 4th at 8pm on BBC 4, Professor David Owen Norris presents Perfect Pianists, a compilation of archive film of great pianists, including Benno Moiseiwitsch, Myra Hess, Artur Rubinstein, Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia – David filmed the links at the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands, so you’ll hear him as well, playing Chopin on Chopin’s own Pleyel. Here he tells us how he chose what to include:
The BBC gave me masses of material to sift through: from Glenn Gould being outrageously (and pointlessly) provocative in the face of a youthful but already urbane Humphrey Burton, to Daniel Barenboim wondering what to say to Lang Lang in a masterclass. Choosing just an hour’s-worth was tricky, and involved questions of how much colour versus B&W, how far one wanted to adopt the very passive camera techniques of the past (the first half of Dame Myra’s ‘Jesu, joy’ shot from somewhere near the piano’s back leg, only her impassive face visible, for instance), and how much I could visit my own prejudices on the viewer. Obviously, they asked me to present because I know what I think, but the audience has its favourites too.
I suggested I should present the show from the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands, which is a
place I’ve loved since I stumbled upon it by accident thirty years ago. Elgar’s piano, Mahler’s piano, Haydn’s piano, and, especially useful for this programme, three Chopin pianos: the Broadwood he played for his last London recital, the Erard for which he wrote Op.55, and the Pleyel that he bought himself.
And who was the most perfect pianist of all? (The alliterative title chimes in with Virtuoso Violinists, presented the following week by Nicola Benedetti). The one who sticks most firmly in my mind is the 80-year-old Artur Rubinstein in the Royal Festival Hall, playing the Heroic Polonaise as a concerto encore. And Rubinstein uttered words of great wisdom in a number of interviews – I’m crossing my fingers that we left enough of them in. An hour is not long enough for such riches.