December 7, 2013
A chequered pianistic explosion
For the Herald
Four talented pianists have graced BA stages recently with varying levels of quality
This article will cover concerts by four pianists, and if I had the gift of ubiquity I could have tripled that figure in recent weeks. There were, of course, different levels of quality, but some high points will remain in the memory.
Nelson Goerner is the best Argentine pianist of his generation (early forties); he lives in Europe, but he visits us yearly and his performances are always an event. This time, his recital for Nuova Harmonia at the Coliseo was again admirable. He presented a solid repertoire of essential composers with the qualities of a great artist: an almost infallible technique, a perfect equilibrium between orthodoxy and innovative interpretation, a beautiful touch, a sense of style that vitalizes everything he plays.
Two well-chosen pieces by Chopin: the varied and enigmatic Fantasy Op.49 and the lyrical Third Ballad. Then, two splendid Debussy versions: the first book of Images (inexplicably not applauded!) and a mercurial L’isle joyeuse (“The happy island”). Finally, the enormous last Schubert Sonata No. 21, where he observed the repeat of the exposition in the first movement (theoretically right, it does make for an excessive 20 minutes); but the composer’s heavenly lengths have rarely been done with such sensitivity. More exquisite Debussy as an encore: La soirée dans Grenade, No. 2 from Estampes.
Horacio Lavandera is both the most successful and regularly seen of the Argentine pianists who are in their twenties. However, while I admire his dexterity and easy command, I always feel a barrier of communication when he plays the classics and I find him much more appealing in 20th-century music. This was the case when he played with impeccable mechanism Mozart’s Concerto No. 23 and Beethoven’s No. 5, Emperor, for Festivales Musicales at the Colón. Crystalline touch and meticulous articulation for Mozart but very unyielding rhythm and no ornamentation in the slow movement. In Beethoven he was quite a pro in remaining unfazed to the consequences of a lighting failure that affected the stage; everyone played with the full lighting of the hall. It was a clean, firm Emperor but a bit too percussive and lacking in poetry.
Michael Seal, a British conductor (currently Associate Conductor of the Birmingham Symphony), has been before at the helm of the Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón. He had them well in hand and his accompaniments were quite helpful. Before the concerti, he led them in a very agreeable traversal of Beethoven’s First Symphony, where it was evident that the Académica (38-strong) is in pretty good shape for this kind of music.
I recently wrote about two concerts of the series Chopiniana; now I will refer to another couple of sessions. I’m glad that the decision was made not to return to the over-reverberant Oval Room of the Palacio Paz in the ground floor; now they are using regularly the good rectangular hall of the first floor, with much better acoustics. The quality and condition of the piano also matters, and after several concerts in which the piano sounded harsh and overloud, on the night of Ingolf Wunder’s “rentrée,” the piano was transformed, and not only because the pianist is a superior talent, but due to the instrument’s re-tuning.
Before him, Polish pianist Wojciech Waleczek had his return engagement but without the benefit of this re-tuning. However, the artist tends to massive sound and over-vehement phrasing, facts that didn’t help. As this is a series, he shouldn’t have repeated Chopin’s three Waltzes Op.34, for they had been played by Raphael Lutchevsky, but there was an improvement: the third waltz was at the right speed. Before, he played the rarely done Brilliant variations Op.12 also by Chopin; they follow the trend of taking a famous bit from a current opera as the subject of virtuoso variations. In this case, “on the favourite rondeau Je vends des scapulaires from Ludovic by Halévy and Hérold.”
Liszt made hundreds of arrangements on music by other composers; among his better ones are his choice of Six Polish songs by Chopin, quite beautiful and played with conviction by Waleczek. The pianist was at his best on two works by Lutoslawski: Twelve folk melodies (1952) and Bucolics (1945); in both cases the Polish composer followed Bartók’s methods to give us folk-inspired miniatures of great charm and character.
Unfortunately — though they were rather well-played — I don’t enjoy the heavy transpositions made by Liszt from Wagner (Isolde’s Love-death from Tristan and Isolde and the Peregrine Chorus from Tannhäuser) and Gounod (the Waltz from Faust). The encores came from Schumann (No. 1 of Kinderszenen) and unexpectedly from Mancini (Moonriver from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s).
To play with words, Wunder is a wonder. Born in 1985, he is certainly a bright light among young pianists: impressive command of dynamics from ppp to fff, extremely agile and fast fingers, good taste and stylistic sense. He played an almost perfect Sonata No.14, Moonlight, by Beethoven, and followed with beautiful Chopin performances: Nocturne Op.9 No. 3 and two Ballads (No. 1 and 3).
In the second part, a precise and sensitive Impromptu Op.142 No. 4 by Schubert and an agreeable transcription by Liszt of Schubert’s Serenade. Finally, Liszt’s mighty Sonata, done in the grand manner with a few smudges, and two encores: Chopin’s Fantasia impromptu and Moszkowski’s aptly named Étincelles (“Sparks”). Wunder seems to me an artist in the great Viennese tradition.