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There is no handbook on how to be a pianist’s spouse. It seems unlikely that the English poet Stephen Spender (1909-1995), who in 1941 married Natasha Litvin (1919-2010), a pianist of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, would be seen as a model. New Selected Journals cites the bisexual Spender’s infidelity, although his wife declared that she never doubted his devotion, nor did she consider marriage to be like picking out a husband ‘at Selfridge’s’, as she put it. An edgily witty person, Natasha studied with the Arthur Schnabel pupil Clifford Curzon at the Royal College of Music, and among the landmarks in a career shortened when breast cancer forced her retirement, she gave a post-war recital at the hospital wing of the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. These Journals contain much of high pianistic interest, including social visits with Curzon (who tells the Spenders that when Schnabel played he ‘made you forget the instrument and enter into a world of pure sound’.), Alfred Brendel, Marion Stein, Alan Marks, and other keyboard luminaries. Natasha Spender was no wallflower; on BBC’s Desert Island Discs programme she chose one of her own recordings, of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 2 conducted by Basil Cameron, alongside admired artists such as Vladimir Horowitz and András Schiff. Sharing a love for pure pianistic sound, the Spenders celebrated an unlikely harmonious life together.

MICHAEL ROUND Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing