Cristian Budu, Herbert Schuch, Alina Bercu, Tamar Beraia, Werner Bärtschi
Klavierissimo 2020 — Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 5 – 10

KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-29


2020-02-19 — Original posting


Tamar Beraia @ Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-28 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Tamar Beraia @ Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-28 (© Rolf Kyburz)

Outline


Introduction

The Klavierissimo Festival is an annual event that takes place in the main convention hall of the regional high school (KZO, Kantonsschule Zürcher Oberland) in Wetzikon ZH (close to Zurich). The organizer of the Klavierissimo Festival is Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland.

Naturally, in the year of the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), the Festival featured concerts with works by Beethoven exclusively. Concrete: this year’s festival consisted of 8 piano recitals, featuring all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, all within 5 successive days.

The Festival Concept

Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas were performed strictly in the order of their opus number. Here’s the outline of the recital part in this Klavierissimo Festival:

I attended all of these recitals, with the exception of #5, which was performed by the pupils who were receiving lessons during the week before. The artists and their sonata assignments are described in my first report from 2020-01-28.


Program

This second Recital featured Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas No.5 up to No.10:

Setting, etc.

Based on earlier concerts in this venue, I took a seat in the right-hand side block, ideal for taking pictures. I did the same in all other recitals, with the one exception of the Recital #4 on Friday, 2020-01-31. The concerts were also well-attended. The venue is actually too big for this type of event (there were many empty seats)—however, with the semi-circular, strongly ascending audience, the hall is ideal for piano recitals, and all seats offer excellent acoustics.


Concert & Review

As indicated previously, my performance remarks are scarce and sketchy: it’s not an in-depth review! Select any image for a full size view of all pictures.

Sonata No.5 in C minor, op.10/1Cristian Budu

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2019-10-26. The movements:

  1. Allegro molto e con brio
  2. Adagio molto
  3. Finale: Prestissimo

The Performance

Some disappointment to begin with: Christian Budu played from sheet music. I don’t mean to condemn playing from the score in general: famous artists are doing that, too, in order to avoid / bridge occasional memory lapses. However using the score to support one’s memory and effectively playing while reading the text on-the-go are two different pairs of shoes.

In the former case, and especially if there is a person turning the pages, the result may be indistinguishable from playing by heart. Here, however, Cristian Budu did the page turning himself (and often anything but silent). And he was effectively playing what he read from the score. With this, the performance could not really be “free”, as the artist’s mind is focusing on the current bars, rather than controlling the phrasing, the overall structure. On top of that, the page turning added extra distraction, if not disruption—not just for the artist, but also for the audience.

I should note that this criticism not only applies to this sonata: Cristian Budu performed from the score throughout the festival, i.e., in all six sonatas that he played.

I. Allegro molto e con brio

A very impulsive beginning, at times almost “rhythmically explosive”, with strong rubato (rather: exaggerated agogics). Initially, the dynamics felt lively, very pronounced. Soon, however, I noted what I took for sloppy use of the sustain pedal: e.g., in bars 76ff, there was way too much sustain pedal, making the entire passage sound blurred. Also, there was a fair number of mishaps. I wondered whether these—and the rhythmic irregularities, perhaps also some pedaling errors—were caused by the sight reading—or was it insufficient preparation? Certainly, the performance lacked coherence and overview / an overall concept.

II. Adagio molto

OK at best, nothing special. As a listener, the questionable performance in the first movement was enough to rise one’s alertness. The resulting focus on the momentary detail / fragility of the performance / control on the part of the pianist probably made it harder to appreciate and enjoy the overall dramaturgy in Beethoven’s composition.

III. Finale: Prestissimo

The artist certainly has the technical means to master this sonata. However, not surprisingly, apart from some good moments (technically) there were again mishaps and superficialities (e.g., in some of the semiquaver motifs, or, towards the end, the staccato notes around the bar lines 116/117 and 118/119).

Did the artist maybe underestimate the technical requirements for this sonata? Or did he just start acquiring this sonata a few days ago? There were and are masters at the piano who can probably sight-read this sonata and produce an acceptable, maybe even a good result—this artist isn’t one of them. Overall (mishaps aside), this performance was not convincing, inconsistent, musically questionable.

Overall Rating: ★★½


Sonata No.6 in F major, op.10/2 — Herbert Schuch

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2019-10-26. The movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Allegretto
  3. Presto

The Performance

No cheat sheet this time—Herbert Schuch performed by heart, and did so for the other appearances, with one exception (op.54 on Saturday).

I. Allegro

A different class of performance, compared to the one we just heard: careful and detailed in articulation, very lively, pronounced and expressive in dynamics, agogics and phrasing, and technically excellent. ★★★+

II. Allegretto

Subtle, highly differentiated dynamics, from the finest pp up to ff; clarity in articulation and phrasing. ★★★+

III. Presto

While the tempo didn’t seem excessive, Herbert Schuch still appeared to reach the limits of the piano mechanics in the semiquaver figures. One should keep in mind that the composer’s pianos had much lighter mechanics (and a smaller tone). Still, the artist was able to convey the humor, the wit in Beethoven’s composition. The audience definitely liked it! ★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★


Sonata No.7 in D major, op.10/3Alina Bercu

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2019-10-26. The movements:

  1. Presto
  2. Largo e mesto
  3. Menuetto: Allegro — Trio
  4. Rondo: Allegro

The Performance

I. Presto

A performance with agility, power and good sonority—and clearly Alina Bercu’s personal interpretation: expressive, “talking” to the listener. Very good, with only a few, really minor mishaps (hardly noticeable). I liked the subtle transitions in the development part. Too bad there was no repeat of the exposition. ★★★+

II. Largo e mesto

In my opinion, the challenge in this sonata is not with the virtuosic movements, but this slow (broad and sad) movement. And here, it’s primarily a question whether the artist manages to maintain the tension across dramatic, reflective and lyrical (yet earnest) segments. I felt that Alina Bercu did very well here: impressive (as well as expressive) and touching, reminding of a drama on stage! The most compelling movement in this performance. ★★★½

III. Menuetto: Allegro — Trio

Excellent dynamic control and balance, with an ear for the secondary voices. Intuitively, the Trio felt faster—but that was merely the different, more dramatic character of the music. Interesting detail: in the repeat of the first 16 bars of the Menuetto, Alina Bercu performed the left hand with arpeggio. I don’t mean to say that this is illegitimate (even though I don’t see a reason for it), but it’s at least noteworthy. ★★★

IV. Rondo: Allegro

Agile, virtuosic, impulsive, careful and differentiated in dynamics. The one quibble: to me, there was the occasional over-pedaling (e.g., in bar 41, as well as at least one other semiquaver passage). ★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★


Sonata No.8 in C minor op.13, “Sonate pathétiqueCristian Budu

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2019-10-26. The movements:

  1. Grave — Allegro di molto e con brio
  2. Adagio cantabile
  3. Rondo: Allegro

The Performance

I. Grave — Allegro di molto e con brio

No surprise: from score again, as already the sonata op.10/1. Already in the Grave, there were some odd discontinuities / inconsistencies in the tempo. Superficial, if not sloppy in the execution, and riddled by mishaps the Allegro di molto e con brio. Disappointing. ★★½

II. Adagio cantabile

To me, the middle voice / accompaniment was too prominent, the dynamic control in the left hand insufficient, the movement lacking expression and subtlety. ★★★

III. Rondo: Allegro

Superficial also here, especially in the segments with the semiquaver triplets. Enough said. ★★½

Overall Rating: ★★½


Sonata No.9 in E major, op.14/1Tamar Beraia

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2019-11-23. The movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Allegretto — Trio (Maggiore)
  3. Rondo: Allegro comodo

The Performance

I. Allegro

What a relief—the level of the festival was instantly restored! A very good performance, careful, subtle and detailed in the dynamics. No, not fragile at all, but with beautifully singing cantilenas. Also: diligent in articulation, pedaling, and phrasing, subtle in the agogics, and—needless to say—technically clean, solid. Overall, a highly and thoroughly enjoyable interpretation that instantly “talked to me” in every phrase!

II. Allegretto — Trio (Maggiore)

Also here, I noted how careful and diligently Tamar Beraia shaped every motif, every phrase through articulation, dynamics, and agogics: so subtle—pure delight! I noted that in the Maggiore part (a Trio of sorts), the artist slightly accelerated towards / around the climax in the center—this clearly was deliberate. It didn’t hurt, for sure, though I’m not sure I necessarily agree with this.

III. Rondo: Allegro comodo

Joyful, playful—and probably reflecting the artist’s friendly, outgoing personality. Again, Tamar Beraia used subtle tempo variations to underline / support the phrasing.

This sonata is probably often underrated: it’s a composition that Beethoven was particularly proud of—why otherwise would he have gone through the effort of transcribing it for string quartet? I can say for sure: Tamar Beraia’s interpretation fully appreciated the value of this composition: she did not treat this as a “minor work”!

Overall Rating: ★★★+


Sonata No.10 in G major, op.14/2Werner Bärtschi

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2019-11-23. The movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Scherzo: Allegro assai

The Performance

I. Allegro

The performance was very much in line with the one on the previous day: Werner Bärtschi has lost some of the firmness in his technique and memory (he was performing with sheet music, again with Alina Bercu as page turner). Still, his performance was not “falling apart”—despite mishaps, it gave a clear testimony of the artist’s interpretation, his concept, i.e., what he meant to express. And in that sense it offered far more than what we heard from another artist in that recital. OK, Werner Bärtschi is drawing from many more years of experience!

II. Andante

Bärtschi’s best movement in this recital, no doubt, and a highlight in that day’s recital overall: I particularly liked how diligently and carefully Werner Bärtschi shaped the transitions: thanks for a touching and highly enjoyable musical experience!

III. Scherzo: Allegro assai

The performance should have ended with the middle movement! What I wrote above on the first movement applies here as well—both the negative, but also the positive aspects.


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