Professor Kuerti presents Beethoven rarities

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Ricordanza
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Professor Kuerti presents Beethoven rarities

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Feb 11, 2012 9:21 pm

Unlike his appearance three years ago, when pianist Anton Kuerti presented a brief lecture before his performance of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, he did not speak to the audience before his all-Beethoven recital on Wednesday evening. However, even without a formal lecture, Kuerti (who actually is a professor at the University of Toronto) is always seeking to educate his audience. On this evening, he enlightened us through his playing and his program notes about two seldom played sonatas, one absolute rarity, and one familiar but always welcome sonata.

The first of the infrequently heard works was the Sonata in A-Flat Major, Op. 26. Right from the beginning, Beethoven lets us know that he is choosing an unconventional route. Instead of the traditional first movement for a sonata, this piece begins with a theme and variations. There’s a Scherzo, but that’s the second movement, not the third. The slow movement follows in the form of a funeral march. A gentle Rondo closes the work. Certainly, not as ear-catching as some of the more famous sonatas, but this work deserves to be heard.

The Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 7, the fourth of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, also leaves the beaten path. Haydn may have been Beethoven’s teacher and influenced his early works, but this hardly resembles Haydn’s compact, tightly structured sonatas. Instead, as aptly described by Kuerti in his program notes, this is a work of “symphonic” proportions. Over a half-hour in length, it is the second longest of the sonatas (the mighty Hammerklavier is the longest). Again, although infrequently played, it offers a wealth of musical riches.

After intermission, Kuerti presented a piece I had never heard before, the Phantasie (or Fantasia) in G Minor, Op. 77. The work comes across as improvisatory and, indeed, in his notes, Kuerti surmises that it started out as one of Beethoven’s brilliant improvisations, but this time, he wrote it all down after performing it before an audience. Whatever its progeny, it’s a work of great imagination. It’s an oddity, and I can’t say that I remember any particular passages after hearing it for the first time, but while listening to it, I found myself fascinated by the question, just what will Beethoven do next?

As the final work on the program, Kuerti turned to one of the most well-known of the sonatas, the justly famous Appassionata, Op. 57. Dramatic, demonic, soulful, dreamy, this work has everything, and Kuerti delivered a compelling performance.

This is the fourth time I’ve heard Kuerti in recital. All of them have been exclusively devoted to Beethoven, and he remains, for me, the ideal Beethoven player. He gives us just enough individuality to communicate with the audience, but never ventures into eccentric interpretive territory. Slow movements are expansive and rich in detail, but he never loses rhythmic momentum. There’s enough eccentricity and quirkiness in Beethoven, without the added layer of a pianist who is intent on imposing his or her personality on the music. I wouldn’t call Kuerti a technical wizard, but he has all the tools to deliver a stormy outburst, when called for, or to produce a finely turned run, when that is needed. At age 73, we do hear some missed notes from time to time, but he is still one of the best in this repertoire, and I look forward to his next recital in Philadelphia.

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