Werner Bärtschi, Alina Bercu, Cristian Budu, Herbert Schuch
Klavierissimo 2020 — Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 11 – 15

KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-30


2020-02-20 — Original posting


Werner Bärtschi @ Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-28 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Werner Bärtschi (& Alina Bercu) @ 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.11 up to No.15:

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.11 in B♭ major, op.22Werner Bärtschi

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

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Adagio con molta espressione
  3. Minuetto — Trio (Minore)
  4. Rondo: Allegretto

The Performance

Tamar Beraia was not performing in this recital—instead, she was turning the pages for Werner Bärtschi in this sonata.

I. Allegro con brio

Let me not focus on the mishaps (of which unfortunately there were quite a few in this movement). Rather, my notes mentioned the singing cantilenas, and especially the dark sonority of the second theme (starting around bar 30). The artist of course repeated the exposition. I noted in an earlier recital (2018-03-09) that Werner Bärtschi puts a lot of focus on sound color and quality—and indeed, one could enjoy his particular sound esthetics, his preference for round, bass-laden colors in the development part (a preference that he confirmed to me in personal encounters).

II. Adagio con molta espressione

Werner Bärtschi briefly mentioned that people gave this movement the title “Die Schwäne” (the swans). I wasn’t aware of this—and frankly, I don’t quite know what to do with this poetic attribution: I can’t say that it helps enjoying this music…

I noted the careful, subtle execution of the sforzati in bar 11, the ever so gentle transition to the pp in the following bar, the serene atmosphere in the bars that followed, and the singing: beautiful! Maybe the right-hand octaves in bar 33 were a bit too prominent (the bar begins pp, with a crescendo on the last beat). However, the interpretation in general was really serene, peaceful and atmospheric, with a particular focus on careful dynamics and sound balance. Definitely a highlight in Werner Bärtschi’s performance.

III. Minuetto — Trio (Minore)

Werner Bärtschi performed the semiquaver figures (and the associated acciaccaturas) with special care. Maybe to the point where the regularity of the flow started to be affected.

IV. Rondo: Allegretto

A movement with serene segments that suit the artist’s particular strengths. There was a loss in tension in the transition in bars 105 – 111. I assume that the hesitations in the cadenza bars 145 – 184 were deliberate? To me, they were bordering on being too long, to the point where I usually would have thought of momentary memory lapses. However, the artist had the score on front of his eyes…


Sonata No.12 in A♭ major, op.26, “Funeral March”Alina Bercu

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

  1. Andante con variazioni
  2. Scherzo: Allegro molto — Trio
  3. Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe
  4. Allegro

The Performance

I. Andante con variazioni

I liked that performance: Alina Bercu was holding the tension really well, maybe with a very slight weakness in variation IV (possibly also in the coda, after the demisemiquavers?). There were of course no technical issues—if there were any mishaps, they were absolutely minor and well-hidden. ★★★

II. Scherzo: Allegro molto — Trio

Careful in articulation, phrasing, and dynamics. I particularly liked the transition from the Trio back to the Scherzo! ★★★+

III. Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un eroe

I think the artist met the funeral march character really well. Maybe she was a little too careful in avoiding exaggerations? A little more emphasis (without overdoing it, of course) might not have hurt here, given the extra colors that instruments offered at the composer’s time? ★★★

IV. Allegro

A fluent tempo, excellent phrasing and distinct, pronounced agogics: the most personal movement in this interpretation! ★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★


Sonata No.13 in E♭ major, op.27/1Werner Bärtschi

The movements:

  1. Andante – Allegro – Andante
  2. Allegro molto e vivace
  3. Adagio con espressione
  4. Allegro vivace – Presto

The Performance

A mere two minutes after her performance, Alina Bercu was back on stage—this time as page turner for Werner Bärtschi! 🙂

I. Andante – Allegro – Andante

Werner Bärtschi took this movement at a distinctly moderate pace, calm, gentle, with mellow articulation, focusing on the legato. And, of course, he enjoyed the dark tone in bars 9 – 12. I also noted his distinct ritenuti at transitions. To me, the touch in the Andante parts was a little too soft, and there was some excess blurring / pedaling in the Allegro. The second Andante felt even slower than the first one.

II. Allegro molto e vivace

The one thing I noted here is that in the prominent trill in bars 50/51, the upper note sounded rather strong. Was this because Werner Bärtschi started on the upper note? At the bend, the artist took the fermata on the last note remarkably long, listening to the instrument’s slowly fading resonance.

III. Adagio con espressione

Werner Bärtschi took the beginning of the sonata rather moderate. Here now, was it just my impression, or maybe the expectation from other interpretation, that made me experience the pace as unusually fluent? Was it just that discrepancy between expectation and reality that made me feel an occasional, slight unrest?

IV. Allegro vivace – Presto

Mishaps again, and some excess sustain pedal, e.g., in the canon-like segments (e.g., in the beginning and equivalent places, but also elsewhere). On the other hand, I sure enjoyed the extra, short cadenza at the fermata in bar 255!


Sonata No.14 in C♯ minor, op.27/2, “Moonlight”Cristian Budu

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2015-12-12. The movements:

  1. Adagio sostenuto
  2. Allegretto
  3. Presto agitato

The Performance

Reading sheet music again, and without the help of a page turner…

I. Adagio sostenuto

For a movement in alla breve notation, this felt definitely too slow. And it lacked atmosphere, subtlety. What was the artist’s intent?

II. Allegretto

Not really convincing, careless touch control in the Trio. The artist’s concept remained unclear…

III. Presto agitato

To me, very much a “generic rendition on a modern concert grand”, technically more or less OK, but often careless, coarse and superficial, even ignoring mishaps and excess sustain pedal.

Rating: ★★½


Sonata No.15 in D major, op.28, “Pastoral”Herbert Schuch

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as my post comparing various recordings of this sonata. The movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace — Trio
  4. Rondo: Allegro, ma non troppo

The Performance

I. Allegro

What a difference in performance level compared to the previous one! Right from the first notes, this interpretation felt so diligent, differentiated, carefully shaped, not only at the level of motifs and phrases, but also in shaping the overall structure. Very impressive, even difficult to find “the hair in the soup”! Maybe there was an occasional excess in sustain pedal, a very rare missed key—but that did not affect the excellent overall impression: an artist with a clear vision and the creative power to shape a long sonata movement! ★★★★

II. Andante

Calm, but keeping the tension, shaping the dramatic arches in dynamics and agigics. I noted that in the central D major section, herbert Schuch very carefully articulated the demisemiquaver upbeats in the descant, almost making them sound as long as the subsequent semiquaver triplet notes. However, I concede that these are more than mere upbeats, as Beethoven write a slur to the following staccato semiquaver—so, the artist’s articulation definitely seems justified. It certainly reflects how careful, diligent and conscious the pianist is about articulation and details in notation. And again, I noted the impressive, big dramatic and dynamic arches, especially in the D minor sections. ★★★½

III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace — Trio

Also here, Herbert Schuch paid attention to all of Beethoven’s notation—without ever sounding didactic. Compelling, masterful. ★★★½

IV. Rondo: Allegro, ma non troppo

Very pronounced in agogics—and again masterful in shaping dramatic arches, truthful to the composer’s notation, excellent control in dynamics. Touching and highly expressive: I could listen to this on end! ★★★★

To me, this impressive performance clearly was the highlight, the culmination of the first 15 sonata performances: congrats! This outclassed all other performances so far, including his own in the previous recitals!

Overall Rating: ★★★★


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