A week's concert-going in London
Shortage of time prompts a blog-like brief round up of some recent concert experiences.
Three piano recitals left contrasting impressions. Barenboim, in one of his long sold-out Beethoven series, vindicated the furore completely.* He brought his rich experience to bear on music he had been playing for sixty years, technically commanding and with palpable emotional involvement; not neglecting Beethoven's sometimes subtle, sometimes quite rough humour. We went to his sonata cycle inaugurating the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the '60s, when the young pianist had the platform lowered for greater intimacy with the audience. A fuller notice will follow the final recital.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard captivated his audience at QEH with the massive Vingt Regards cycle, which I have come to think is better given in selections rather than in its entirety. In younger days I devoted hundreds of hours at the piano to getting around Messiaen's dense chords and figurations; up to quarter-speed in the faster sections. Encountering them again I found myself alienated from its liturgical overload, repetitiveness and the sameness over a long span of the formulaic chordal constructions, leavened occasionally by the introduction of his signature bird-calls. After no. 6 Par lui tout a été fait I felt an interval was due; after Aimard had thundered his way to the peroration of the Esprit do joie, received with a full-house ovation as might be a marathon runner, I felt that Dix were enough.
* Martin Kettle of The Guardian reflected our feelings admirably: - - the prodigious account of the other C major Sonata, Op 2 No 3, which Barenboim played with all the ebullient and pyrotechnical self-confidence that the young Beethoven himself must have brought to it when he launched his career in 1790s Vienna. Op 28 was broad and benign, with Barenboim savouring all the subtle shadings of passages, such as the descending F sharp octaves in the scherzo. But Opus 109, like the magnificently played Appassionata in an earlier recital, was compellingly focused, the rippling legato of the opening and the explosive urgency of the prestissimo second movement leading to the great journey of the final movement.