Herbert Schuch, Tamar Beraia, Cristian Budu, Alina Bercu
Klavierissimo 2020 — Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 16 – 18, 21

KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-31


2020-02-21 — Original posting


Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-31 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-31 (© 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.16 up to No.18, and No.21:

Setting, etc.

While I usually take a seat in the right-hand side block, this time, I chose a seat in the center of the second-to-last row, in order to have a different perspective for my pictures. 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.16 in G major, op.31/1Herbert Schuch

The movements:

  1. Allegro vivace
  2. Adagio grazioso
  3. Rondo: Allegretto — Presto

The Performance

I. Allegro vivace

Herbert Schuch’s Focus was on the phrasing, the pronounced and differentiated agogics, the dynamics, the expression, the flow and the overall structural view. He did not try dissecting motifs with extreme staccato: the prominent semiquaver passages parades were dominated by momentum and verve. There was very little, if any difference between the segments with slurs and those without. I liked the transitions, e.g., the one to the closing phrase in the exposition (repeated, of course).

The development part was highly dramatic and expressive, though with an occasional excess in sustain pedal. The recap section drew my attention to the notable switch to a slower pace at the second theme in bars 218ff. Dramatic, enthralling, overall! ★★★½

II. Adagio grazioso

Are dramatic, fast movements maybe more the strength of this artist? Here, to me, the trills were a little too fast, not very differentiated. Similarly, I found the very fast passages in bars 10 and 12 highly smooth and virtuosic. In general, the performance was careful in dynamics and articulation, differentiated in agogics in the parts with bigger note values. I would not necessarily call this interpretation grazioso, though—rather focusing on producing impressive sonority on the modern concert grand. The latter also probably made the trills sound a little blurred? If I ignore the grazioso in the annotation, this certainly was a masterful interpretation, impressive in the presentation of the big formal structure and dramatic arches. ★★★+

III. Rondo: Allegretto — Presto

A pianist with superb technical means and enormous creative power. Overall, I would characterize his playing as tending towards legato, focused on phrasing, expression and structural clarity. Impressive dynamics and sonority, and again very pronounced agogics. Quibbles? Maybe the slightly excessive crescendo in bar 222, the excess in sustain pedal in the transition to the coda, in bar 240. And yes, it’s an enthralling performance very much tailored to the impressive sonority of the modern concert grand. Historic soundscapes are not part of this artist’s world. They are my personal preference, but obviously can’t (and maybe shouldn’t) be everybody’s goal. ★★★½+

Rating: ★★★½


Sonata No.17 in D minor, op.31/2, “The Tempest”Tamar Beraia

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2020-01-25. The movements:

  1. Largo – Allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegretto

The Performance

I. Largo – Allegro

Dramatic, expressive, technically excellent: Tamar Beraia is a pianist with formidable musical and technical means! Her performance leaves me with only very minor quibbles: in the opening bars, the slurred quaver pairs—though certainly consciously shaped—felt a tad superficial, i.e., the first quaver had a little bit the air of an acciaccatura. Also, I didn’t quite understand why the closing phrase in the exposition (bars 63ff) came at a slower pace—to me, this disrupted the flow, affected the tension.

I noted the excellent tuning of the Steinway D-274 concert grand (Gebrüder Bachmann, Wetzikon)—an instrument in excellent shape! It may also have been the sonority of the instrument which made Tamar Beraia’s truthful pedaling in the recitative segments very obvious: Beethoven explicitly wanted those to be played without dampers. Enlightening! ★★★★

II. Adagio

Very much “talking”, lively, rich dynamics, careful articulation, excellent touch, and exploiting the beautiful (bass) sonority (& tuning) of the instrument. I also liked how Tamar Beraia managed to maintain and build up tension—maybe with the very minor reservation below…

Quibbles / the “hair in the soup”? Well, if there were any, then it’s maybe the very slight acceleration around bar 80 (which didn’t make sense to me), or perhaps the slightly broadened last quaver staccato following some of the groups of demisemiquaver triplets in the bass (e.g., bars 40 and 60)? But these are tiny details, really… ★★★½

III. Allegretto

Superb playing, powerful and impressive in the dramatic parts, with amazing clarity and sonority in the bass. Tamar Beraia chose a very fluent tempo. This suited character of her playing. However, the semiquaver figures in the p segments (main theme) sounded slightly superficial (a little bit as if they were acciaccaturas). Maybe that’s just my preference for historical instruments, where fast notes have extra clarity?? Was the tempo perhaps a little on the fast side? ★★★

Rating: ★★★½


Sonata No.18 in E♭ major, op.31/3, “The Hunt”Cristian Budu

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2020-01-25. The movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Scherzo: Allegretto vivace
  3. Menuetto: Moderato e grazioso — Trio
  4. Presto con fuoco

The Performance

Performing from score, as usual, and without the help of a page turner, as usual…

I. Allegro

Often superficial, careless, and with the occasional run-away tempo, exposition not repeated, and of course not free of mishaps… I can’t say I felt an overall concept in this interpretation. Need I say more? ★★

II. Scherzo: Allegretto vivace

A rather fluent pace, technically OK, agile, precise in sforzati and accents, concise staccato—but no repeat, and how about agogics, shaping phrases, humor, subtleties?? ★★+

III. Menuetto: Moderato e grazioso — Trio

Only in this movement (at last), the artist applied noticeable agogics, probably the best movement in this sonata. Though, I sensed an occasional lack of precision in the touch. ★★½

IV. Presto con fuoco

Here, Cristian Budu observed the repeat. Still, the performance was riddled by superficialities and mishaps. ★★

Overall Rating: ★★

The above may sound very critical—I should note that Beethoven’s composition not only is a masterpiece as composition, but also highly challenging and virtuosic: the composer at the height of his creative and virtuosic power. But then, that just as well applies to op.31/1 and op.31/2…


Sonata No.21 in C major, op.53, “Waldstein”Alina Bercu

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2020-01-25. The movements:

  1. Allegro con brio
  2. Introduzione: Adagio molto
  3. Rondo: Allegretto moderato — Prestissimo

The Performance

I. Allegro con brio

Very good, both technically, as well as musically. Agile and concise in staccato and sf markings, dramatic, both powerful and careful in the dynamics, diligent in phrasing and overall shaping. And here, Alina Bercu did repeat the exposition—thanks! There were barely any superficialities—though, maybe the occasional excess blurring in semiquaver runs (the tempo at the limit?), and rare instances of overpedaling. On the other hand, the pianist carefully articulated the semiquaver acciaccaturas in the descant of the main theme.

A masterpiece as a composition, and all too well-known, maybe: everybody is familiar with this music—and so, the challenge here is to add one’s personal take, individuality in the interpretation? It will be interesting to watch how Alina Bercu’s interpretation of this big movement grows over the coming years! ★★★

II. Introduzione: Adagio molto

I noted the artist‘s excellent control of touch, dynamics, and balance. And I liked how she was able not only to maintain the tension (if not suspense), intensifying the expectation towards the end of the Introduzione: pondering, reflecting, weighing thoughts—was this a monologue, or rather (at times) a dialog between the descant and the bass? ★★★½

III. Rondo: Allegretto moderato — Prestissimo

A gentle build-up at the beginning, carefully shaped dynamics and agogics—I liked the subtle hesitation at the beginning of the cantilena, whenever the main theme set in. And of course, Alina Bercu stayed truthful to Beethoven’s pedaling annotations—and even though the modern grand resonates much longer, the sustain pedal helped in making the instrument sing! Then, of course, in bar 55, when Beethoven finally reaches ff for the first time, the audience could enjoy the big sonority of the instrument. However, the artist kept the touch under control at all times, never forcing the instrument over the limits or making it sound noisy.

Not only was Alina Bercu’s playing technically excellent—she maintained the tension, kept an eye on the overall structure, the big dramatic arches. This persisted throughout the Prestissimo section, where Beethoven keeps adding build-ups, returning to p, then building up again, etc.—an impressive performance! ★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★½



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