Christian Zacharias returns to Philadelphia

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Christian Zacharias returns to Philadelphia

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Nov 03, 2016 4:13 pm

After attending three previous recitals by Christian Zacharias, I still can’t get over the contrast between the way he walks out on the concert stage and the music emanating from his piano. As he walked toward the piano on Tuesday evening, November 1, Zacharias had the bemused expression on his face of an absent-minded professor. He had his arms bent at the elbows, vaguely gesturing to the audience, and seemed about to expound upon some esoteric topic. But when he sat at the piano and began (without hesitation) to play, we once again heard the confident, bold and individualistic approach we’ve become accustomed to with this outstanding pianist.

At first glance, the program appeared to be somewhat constricted, listing works produced over a narrow range of time (1814 to 1837). But here too, the message was to look beyond appearances. The four works he played that were produced during that span revealed a world of contrasts.

Zacharias opened the program with an early sonata by Schubert, in A Minor, D. 537. This was my first hearing of the work and, to be frank, my impression was that it’s not in the same league as the later masterpieces by Schubert in this genre. On the other hand, even the explorations of the 19-year-old Schubert can be engaging, and Zacharias presented as persuasive a case as is possible for this work.

Two of Beethoven’s most unusually structured--and exceptionally beautiful--sonatas followed. The Sonata No. 27 (out of 32), Op. 90, in E Minor, contains only two movements instead of the usual three. But what gems they are! The second movement, in particular, which Beethoven indicated must be played in a songful manner, is an outpouring of emotional and lyrical expression. Compared with the first work we heard, this sonata seems more Schubertian than early Schubert.

While I admired Zacharias’ playing for his clean lines and singing tone in the Opus 90, his performance of the Sonata No. 30, Op. 109, in E Major, was even better. The final three sonatas by Beethoven are fundamentally different from the previous 29 and, indeed, constitute a distinct category of their own. Classical? Romantic? These shorthand descriptions aren’t sufficient to classify late Beethoven. Turning to this specific sonata, the first two movements are relatively brief, while the center of the work is clearly the third and concluding movement. It is essentially a set of variations based on a warm and stately theme. The movement builds in intensity to an almost unbearable level, before returning to the most basic and achingly beautiful statement of the theme. Zacharias gave an exceptional performance, demonstrating an uncanny ability to deliver emotional intensity while maintaining a sense of structure of the work.

Following intermission, Zacharias offered a memorable performance of one of the most imaginative works in the piano literature, Schumann’s Davidbundlertanze (Dances of the League of David), Op. 6. This is a set of 18 pieces depicting, among other things, the fictional characters, or aspects of Schumann’s personality, which he named Florestan and Eusebius. To us modern, rational folk, the underlying idea of this work may seem strange, but the music Schumann produced has fascinated pianists and their audiences for many years. Zacharias captured the unique character of each piece, with subtle shifts of rhythm, wonderful dynamic range, and great attention to detail.

Zacharias declined to play any encores, but that was the only disappointment of this recital.

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