Christian Zacharias - a pianist of individuality

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Ricordanza
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Christian Zacharias - a pianist of individuality

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Dec 10, 2011 6:54 pm

When I first heard Christian Zacharias in recital in February 2008, he left a strong impression as an interpreter of Schubert, with a magnificent performance of the Sonata in A Major, D. 959. Since that time, I’ve heard Zacharias’ outstanding recorded performances of several Schumann works. So I was looking forward to his recital on Wednesday evening, devoted to works of C.P.E. Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert. This time, his interpretive approach was more individualistic, sometimes to the point of unappealing quirkiness. But let’s get to the specifics.

The music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is rarely found on piano recital programs. Indeed, I can’t remember hearing any of his works in any previous piano recital. Nevertheless, Zacharias made a strong case for including him. The Sonata in A Minor is close to Haydn in style, and shares with Haydn some of the surprises and unexpected odd notes that characterize his music. It was somewhat hard to judge, having never heard the piece before, but my impression was that Zacharias took considerable liberties with his performance, in the use of some long pauses and frequent tempo changes. It worked for me. A more straightforward interpretation would have failed to bring out the charming oddity of this piece. Similarly, C.P.E. Bach’s Rondo in C Minor received a good introduction.

Zacharias’ tendency to push and pull the rhythm was less successful in the set of four pieces comprising Brahms’ Op. 119. The opening Intermezzo moved at such a slow and uneven pace as to lose all sense of forward momentum. The lush lyrical aspects of the third Intermezzo were downplayed. Clearly, Zacharias is not one for sentimentality, favoring a more restrained and classical demeanor, but what if it’s called for in the piece? Similarly, the molten passion of the final piece, the Rhapsody, was drained and flattened. Zacharias’ approach was certainly valid and well thought out, but to these ears, late Romanticism is not his forte.

Late Beethoven is closer to this pianist’s neighborhood. The Sonata No. 31, Op. 110, received a fine performance, although I recall a more stirring impression from performances of this work by Anton Kuerti, and even Marc-Andre Hamelin.

Schubert’s Sonata in D Major, D. 850, was a mixed bag. The dramatic contrasts were well rendered by Zacharias, but the lyrical moments in this Sonata were de-emphasized, and the lack of rhythmic cohesiveness rendered this already expansive Sonata as just plain long. An artist is certainly entitled to change his approach, but this audience member is also allowed to prefer the approach he took three years ago to Schubert. I felt then that his rendition of the A Major Sonata was one of the best performances of any piano work I had heard. Not so Wednesday evening.

A Mozart Rondo served as the sole encore. This had the least tinkering with rhythm of any piece on the program. It was also one of the most pleasing pieces of the evening. Clearly, to these ears, there’s a connection.

P.S. Harris, feel free to chime in. I know from our intermission discussion that you had a different impression.

Donald Isler
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Re: Christian Zacharias - a pianist of individuality

Post by Donald Isler » Sun Dec 11, 2011 8:37 am

Very interesting to read this review, especially as I've played and recorded everything on this program except for the CPE Bach works, which I would like to have heard. (One of my teachers tried to get me interested in CPE's music but I never found anything I liked enough to make the effort to learn it.) I heard Zacharias several times some years ago at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York and also had different reactions to different performances. I liked him quite a lot the first couple of times but the last time felt he was just playing (a Mozart concerto) as fast as possible, to the detriment of the natural charm and elegance of the music.
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Re: Christian Zacharias - a pianist of individuality

Post by Steinway » Sun Dec 11, 2011 7:31 pm

Henry..

As usual, an excellent review. I don't know why he selected that particular Schubert sonata, which is one of my least favorites, too repetitive and way too lengthy for my taste. His Beethoven was first class and beautifully played all around. As usual, great to see you again.

Donald..

You need to give CPE Bach a longer listen .The guy was way ahead of his time and a master contrapuntalist and some of his piano sonatas are absolute gems. It's sad that his works are played so infrequently.

Donald Isler
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Re: Christian Zacharias - a pianist of individuality

Post by Donald Isler » Sun Dec 11, 2011 7:45 pm

Harris,

Have you heard Schnabel play that sonata? Perhaps he would change your mind. I think it's a great piece.

As for CPE Bach: Maybe 20 years ago I visited my first teacher, Sina Berlinski (a Cortot student) and she told me I really should look into CPE. So I heard a few pieces which didn't turn me on. Then, one day, I was listening to a piece on the radio which I was convinced was CPE, and which I really liked. "Have to find out exactly which work that is!" I said to myself. Except, at the end, the announcer said it was Haydn!
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Re: Christian Zacharias - a pianist of individuality

Post by Steinway » Sun Dec 11, 2011 11:41 pm

Donald..

Don't have the Schnabel but I do have Kuerti, Uchida, Berendel, Sherman and Richter on the D850.

Some superb playing but the sonata is way down on my list of Schubert's total list.

Check out Pletnev's marvelous cd of CPE Bach on DG from 2002. :D

Best regards to you and your dad.

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