Pierre-Laurent Aimard challenges his audience

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Ricordanza
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Pierre-Laurent Aimard challenges his audience

Post by Ricordanza » Thu Mar 15, 2018 8:16 pm

Having attended pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recitals in 2010 and 2012, I knew that his recital on Tuesday, March 13, would not be an evening of comfortable entertainment. First, as an ardent advocate of contemporary or modernist music, I knew that at least some of his program would be challenging to the ear. Even when he plays more familiar repertory, his individual approach poses a challenge to the audience’s expectations.
Here was his program for the evening:

Obukhov: Création d'or
Obukhov: Révelation
Liszt: Nuages gris
Liszt: Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este
Messiaen: Le Courlis Cendré, from Catalogue d'oiseaux
Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53
Beethoven: Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 106, Hammerklavier

The music of Nikolai Obukhov (1892-1954) cannot be called “contemporary,” but the selections offered by Aimard, composed in 1915 and 1916, could easily be mistaken for compositions from 2015 and 2016. Clearly, he was ahead of his time. But after hearing the music of this obscure Russian mystic for the first time, the monotony and lack of emotional content left me cold. I could only conclude that this composer’s obscurity is well-deserved.

Franz Liszt’s Nuages gris (Gray Clouds) is another work that is ahead of its time. This 1881 piece is one of Liszt’s experiments with atonality, and deserves a place on a program. Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este (The Fountain of the Villa d’Este) is more conventional in its harmonic structure, but previews the “impressionistic” music of Debussy and Ravel. The intent of this piece is to depict, through music, the spectacle of water shooting through the air, and the sunlight dancing through those jets of water. Aimard delivered an engaging rendition of this virtuosic showpiece, maintaining the tremendous sweep and flow of this work while managing, somehow, to articulate every note.

Messiaen’s Catalogue d'oiseaux (Catalogue of Birds) is also a “pictorial” work in a sense, but the birds we meet are unlike the cute tweeters we hear in Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony or the lovely songbird in Vaughn-Williams’ “The Lark Ascending.” Not here. Messiaen uses some startling chords and harsh dissonances to introduce us to some “angry birds.” This music is a challenge to the pianist as well as the listener, but Aimard’s performance made a persuasive case for the strange and unique soundscape of this composer.

Scriabin, like Obukhov, could also be described as a mystic, but there the resemblance ends. First, Scriabin’s music is unquestionably pianistic, that is, it is exceptionally well crafted to reveal the full resources of the piano. Some of Scriabin’s later works border on the bizarre, but the Fifth Sonata is a work of great imagination and emotional depth. Aimard’s performance of this one-movement sonata was mesmerizing.

Following intermission, Aimard performed the piece I was most anxious to hear, Beethoven’s monumental “Hammerklavier” Sonata. It is the longest of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, and probably the most technically and musically challenging. The mighty fugue which closes the sonata is especially uncompromising—for the listener as well as the pianist. This piece demands a master pianist, and Aimard delivered a masterful performance.

A couple footnotes: First, Aimard performed all of the pieces with a score in front of him. Twenty or thirty years ago, this was unheard of at piano recitals (except, perhaps, for a new and complex work). But I don’t feel that it detracted in any way from the performance. Second, Aimard performed the entire first half without interruption. The intent, it seemed, was to present the music as a continuous arc. I’m not sure if that intent was fulfilled, but it was an interesting way to present the music, even though it represented a challenge to the audience’s span of attention.

diegobueno
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Re: Pierre-Laurent Aimard challenges his audience

Post by diegobueno » Fri Mar 16, 2018 3:30 pm

The Liszt Jeaux d'Eau and the Scriabin 5th Sonata are two of my favorite piano works, so there's the beginning of a good program right there. How'd he do on the Beethoven? That's a pianist killer.

Ricordanza
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Re: Pierre-Laurent Aimard challenges his audience

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Mar 17, 2018 6:21 am

diegobueno wrote:
Fri Mar 16, 2018 3:30 pm
How'd he do on the Beethoven? That's a pianist killer.
From the thorniest passages, to the serenity of the slow movement, to the grand statements, Aimard was in complete control.

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