Herbert Schuch, Cristian Budu, Tamar Beraia, Alina Bercu
Klavierissimo 2020 — Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 22 – 24, 26

KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-02-01, 15h30


2020-02-22 — Original posting


Herbert Schuch @ Klavierissimo Festival, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-01-28 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Herbert Schuch @ 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.22 up to No.24, and No.26:

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.22 in F major, op.54 — Herbert Schuch

For information on the composition see also my earlier post with a comparison of several recordings. The movements:

  1. In tempo d’un menuetto
  2. Allegretto — Più allegro

The Performance

For once, Herbert Schuch performed with sheet music. I suspect that he added this sonata to his repertoire only recently. In any case, in his performance, the artist was far less bound to the score than others. This apparently just served as “extended cheat sheet”, offering extra security / protection against momentary, minor memory lapses.

I. In tempo d’un menuetto

Expressive, technically excellent, highly diligent / careful in dynamics, transparency, balance between the hands / voices. Masterful in agogics, particularly in the lyrical segments. The one detail I noted is that in bars 59 – 61, the last quaver in the bass motifs was not staccato, but almost felt like a crotchet (sustain pedal?). I noted one single mishap in bar 102—apart from this, the performance was technically flawless and highly differentiated. My only, minor quibble is—no, not the mishap, but a very slight tendency to use “enough” sustain pedal.

A little side-note: the last chord alone demonstrated the instruments exceptionally perfect tuning—it’s rare that one hears such pure chords on concert grands! Thanks to Urs Bachmann (Gebrüder Bachmann, Wetzikon) who was taking care of the instrument that day, for his outstanding services!

II. Allegretto — Più allegro

No doubt: Herbert Schuch’s performance in this movement was technically superb, as much as in the first movement. He performed both repeats, and phrasing and dynamic arches were excellent, as in his previous performances. I just didn’t understand why in the first bars (and later, in equivalent places) he kept the sustain pedal down almost throughout. This may have increased the sonority, as the artist seemed to aim at full, rounded sound. However, this also caused excessive (unnecessary) blurring. My score (Henle, 1976) does not feature any pedaling instructions. Not only did I see no justification for that extra blurring—but if I’m not mistaken, the excess pedal occasionally caused strings to twang in ff. Overall, the interpretation was impressive nevertheless.

Rating: ★★★½


Sonata No.23 in F minor, op.57, “AppassionataCristian Budu

For information on the composition see also my several posts discussing concert performances of this sonata. The movements:

  1. Allegro assai
  2. Andante con moto
  3. Allegro ma non troppo – Presto

The Performance

I. Allegro assai

I found Cristian Budu’s performance better here than in the preceding recitals: it was technically OK, though certainly not perfect. The pianist selected a moderate pace in the introduction, and he also was careful about dynamics in the soft segments. In ff, however, his right-hand touch occasionally sounded hard, metallic. At times, I missed shaping in agogics / phrasing—e.g., the falling triplet scale in bars 186 – 189 was far too uniform, lacking phantasy / vision, didn’t “talk” at all. The large cadenza in bars 218 – 238 was loud, but lacking differentiation. Finally, the coda definitely sounded careless, gross, only just loud. ★★★–

II. Andante con moto

The pianist played all notes in the score—however, the interpretation was largely devoid of agogic (intra-bar) and phrasing tension, let alone poetry. The second variation was more differentiated in agogics. However, the accompaniment (semiquavers) was a little too prominent, relative to the cantilena. Overall, I missed subtlety and expression (one example: the transition back to the theme, after the last variation). ★★½

III. Allegro ma non troppo – Presto

Pushing forward, fast—at the expense of coarseness in touch, superficialities, and mishaps in virtuosic passages. The pianist omitted the big repeat (bars 118 – 297). ★★½

Overall Rating: ★★½


Sonata No.24 in F♯ major, op.78, “à ThérèseTamar Beraia

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2016-02-10. The movements:

  1. Adagio cantabile — Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Allegro vivace

The Performance

I. Adagio cantabile — Allegro ma non troppo

Ah—after the previous performance, the depth of expression, the richness in her agogics became even more evident. Even just the initial 4 bars of Adagio cantabile seemed so serene, infinitely moving, touching, subtle in expression and agogics: (*****)!

I mentioned above that Tamar Beraia performed by heart. People may not necessarily be aware that this means taking risks. This became apparent here, when the artist had to bridge a few, short memory lapses. She did not stop or interrupt her playing, though, and she partially “corrected” the mishaps when she did the repeats (and she observed both repeat marks). The mishaps may seem unfortunate. However, if I had the choice, I’d always trade security for risk and expression. Particularly if security leads to loss in depth and expression.

II. Allegro vivace e mesto

I assume that the artist hasn’t performed this rarely played sonata many times yet: her interpretation was OK, but here, she again had memory lapses—even a major one, which made her skip major parts in the second half (again without interrupting, though). Never mind, Tamar: I maintain what I said above, and even just the beginning of the first movement was compensation enough for whatever happened thereafter!

Rating: ★★★


Sonata No.26 in E♭ major, op.81a, “Les AdieuxAlina Bercu

For information on the composition see also my earlier post with a comparison of several recordings, or my several posts discussing concert performances of this sonata. The movements:

  1. Das Lebewohl / Les adieux (The Farewell): Adagio — Allegro
  2. Abwesenheit / L’absence (The Absence): Andante espressivo (In gehender Bewegung, doch mit viel Ausdruck)
  3. Das Wiedersehen / Le retour (The Return): Vivacissimamente (Im lebhaftesten Zeitmaße)

The Performance

I. Das Lebewohl / Les adieuxAdagio — Allegro

A very good performance in general—careful in touch, dynamics and agogics, building tension over the Adagio. Alina Bercu maintained that tension in the Allegro part—up to the long notes starting in bar 181. There, the composer lets the motion (almost) come to a halt: from then on, it seemed much harder to “keep the (e)motion going”. A good example for a movement where the difficulty is not technical, or in virtuosity!

To me, the last bars (starting in bar 245) were a little too metric: I’m sure the composer did not mean the crotchet triplet, then the quaver quadruplets and quintuplets to be exactly that—rather, I see this as subtle / gentle and continuous acceleration between the barlines. ★★★

II. Abwesenheit / L’absenceAndante espressivo (In gehender Bewegung, doch mit viel Ausdruck)

A nice, “speaking” recitativo accompagnato, equally expressive also in the left hand accompaniment, rich in agogics—a highlight in this recital! ★★★½

III. Das Wiedersehen / Le retourVivacissimamente (Im lebhaftesten Zeitmaße)

Another very good performance, technically firm, excellent in articulation and dynamics—except that maybe the p starting in bar 45 was maybe a little too strong? No repeat of the exposition, unfortunately. Did the artist mean to increase the tension / expectation with the (very) slight acceleration in bars 130 – 137? To me, this didn’t quite work (or have that effect): rather I personally think that tension would be achieved by resisting the temptation to accelerate? However, that was soon forgotten, given the wonderfully subtle Poco andante transition to the jubilant, hearty closure—one of the most joyful of all Beethoven sonatas! ★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★


Conclusion

I can’t resist adding a little side-note: throughout the festival all men partially or entirely relied upon sheet music in their performances. I noted that the two women—Tamar Beraia and Alina Bercu—both performed entirely by heart. With this, I don’t mean to make implications about the performance quality—but still, this alone deserves recognition!


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