Rudolf Buchbinder - all Beethoven and mostly great

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Rudolf Buchbinder - all Beethoven and mostly great

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:04 am

We all hear music through the filter of personal experience, and I am no exception. As I listened to the opening work on Rudolf Buchbinder’s all-Beethoven recital on Wednesday evening, April 26, I couldn’t help thinking about my first encounter with that piece. It was in my early teens when I watched a program about Beethoven on the PBS TV station. The background music for a portion of this program was, I thought, the most beautiful piano music I had ever heard. From the closing credits, I learned that it was the third and final movement of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, Op. 31, No. 2. At my next lesson, I told my teacher, George Armstrong, that I had to play that work! He agreed, I learned the piece, and later performed it in a group recital.

So with a strong sense of identification with this music I listened to Buchbinder’s performance and, in places, found it wanting. Certainly, all the notes were there, but it lacked subtlety. Throughout the piece, and especially the first and third movements, there are transitions that call for a little attention, perhaps a pause, or a slight change in dynamics, that were absent in this performance.

But after hearing the rest of this recital, I could attribute these lapses to the vagaries of live performance. That’s the unique nature of a live concert (as opposed to a recording which is only released after numerous “takes”). Perhaps Buchbinder needed to “warm up,” for the remainder of this recital offered Beethoven performances that were among the finest I’ve heard.

Buchbinder’s next two pieces proved once again that although there are Beethoven sonatas that are lesser known, they are not “lesser” in any way. The Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3, is full of fascinating material. The “wrong” notes in the Menuetto are especially intriguing. Similarly, the Sonata in G Major, Op. 14, No. 2, is full of charm and musical interest. Buchbinder’s rendition of these works was nuanced, refined and altogether appealing.

When I first heard the final movement of the “Tempest” and declared it my favorite, I had not yet heard the final movement of the “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53. (My introduction to that work was by a fellow student of Mr. Armstrong, who played it in a subsequent group recital.) Indeed, the entire sonata is innovative and striking, but the last movement is in a class by itself. In a sense, it is typical Beethoven magic, in that he begins with a very simple theme, seven notes, a repeat of the first six notes, then a step down to a similar figure. It seems almost trite when described this way, but when played, it sounds warm and noble. And then, of course, what Beethoven does with this simple theme in the rest of the movement is incomparable.

Buchbinder’s performance of the “Waldstein” was dramatic and glowing and all one could ask for.

In his 2015 Philadelphia all-Beethoven recital, Buchbinder’s encore was the final movement of the “Tempest.” On Wednesday night, in similar fashion, his encore was the final movement of the “Pathétique” Sonata.

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