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In 2010, Alan Rusbridger, longtime editor of The Guardian, resolved to learn Chopin’s Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op 23 for public performance, despite being an amateur with scant time to practise. As a professional networker, Rusbridger had access to noted pianists who were friends of his friends, and many of these are quoted in the book, whether they are (Emanuel Ax, Murray Perahia) or are not (Richard Goode, Alfred Brendel) really Chopin specialists. Some superb keyboard artists who recorded the Ballade expertly, from Ivan Moravec to Cecile Licad, are ignored, because this is more a book about Rusbridger’s social life, minus any genuine indiscretions, than about Chopin. Overlong by about 100 pages, Play it Again suffers because apparently no one dared edit the editor-in-chief, not even for errors, such as when Iris Origo, the Anglo-Irish biographer and writer, is called ‘the American writer’. We are informed that ‘there are few things duller than other people’s building stories’, but are told them anyway. Captains of industry who control many employees’ destinies do sometimes become fixated on a single musical work – the paradigm is American businessman Gilbert Kaplan’s obsession with Mahler’s Second Symphony – regardless of whether such choices suit their abilities. Unsurprisingly, Rusbridger complains of pain during practice sessions, an ache that will perhaps be shared by readers who value Chopin over Fleet Street stunts. The best part of Play it Again is a reproduced score of the Ballade itself, with mini-comments added, citing Perahia et al. Some masterpieces are better left to speak for themselves – in professionals’ hands.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing