So the other night my friend gave a piano recital, and afterwards we all went out for drinks at a well-loved dive nearby—my friend, his friends, students and teacher, and his teacher's family. One of the students asked, as anyone in his situation must be tempted to do (but never has the nerve to ask so baldly), of my friend's Russian emigré teacher: Tell us about Alfred Schnittke! A pause. Hmm. He wasn't sure how to respond, at first, but quickly recovered and gave us a little sketch. Actually, Schnittke changed a great deal over the course of his life, the pleasant young composer, witty and effervescent, gradually becoming, after a series of strokes, much "darker"—more spiritual, but also less trusting. Embarrassed as I'd been to hear the question aloud, I drank in every word of the answer, fascinated and thrilled. The question then went around the table: What's your favorite piece by Schnittke? Well, I said, I love the whole body of work, I love that young trickster Schnittke, a great, rare musical wit, but perhaps even more than that, I love the older Schnittke, the Schnittke of the Penitential Psalms and even more than that the Choir Concerto. When he stopped kidding around entirely, and distilled his music down to pure passion and terror, he wrote some of the most stunningly expressive pieces in the repertoire. I was shoveling fries in my face the whole time I was saying this, by the way. My friend picked the Viola Concerto—"performed by Kim Kashkashian!" He'd seen her play it live. I nodded seriously. Kashkashian's was my own first recording of the concerto, and it's a fine one, beautifully recorded (of course it is; it's on ECM) and brilliantly played. Kashkashian is a magnificently sensitive, precise performer. "But the best recording," I averred, "is Yuri Bashmet. Not the RCA recording—which is honestly a little lifeless—but the one he did before that, his old Soviet recording. I think so much of his character as a performer is written into the piece... those strange, quick shifts in color..." My friend's teacher nodded. "Schnittke always wrote with the personality of the performer in mind." Well. Once home, quite pleased with myself for having discussed a favorite composer's music so brilliantly with someone who actually knew him, I headed straight to the music shelf to take down and listen to Bashmet's Soviet recording of the Viola Concerto. It wasn't there. "JoJo, where's the other Bashmet recording of the Schnittke Viola Concerto?" JoJo pointed out that we did not, in fact, own this CD, and never had. "Are you sure?" Yes. And it began to dawn on me that I had never actually heard the recording I had defended so specifically and vigorously just an hour before. I had seen it at the store and then imagined I had heard it, or rather forgotten that I had not, and had instead recalled in great detail what the recording sounded like (a little off-balance, a little out-of-control, but in a way that heightened the musical drama instead of obscuring it), to the extent that it had actually become my favorite rendition of the piece, without my even hearing so much as a note. Unbeknownst to everyone, including myself, everything I had said that night had been one hundred per-cent bullshit. Epilogue: I went ahead and bought the record, just now. I decided I'd better. And hey, turns out it's fantastic—I think it might even be my favorite recording of the piece.