Werner Bärtschi, Herbert Schuch, Tamar Beraia
Klavierissimo 2020 — Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 27 – 29

KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-02-01, 17h30


2020-02-23 — 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.27 up to No.29:

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.27 in E minor, op.90Werner Bärtschi

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2017-02-27. The movements:

  1. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck (“With liveliness and with feeling and expression throughout”)
  2. Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen (“Not too swiftly and conveyed in a singing manner”)

The Performance

I. Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck

I’m not repeating my generic comments on Werner Bärtschis playing here—let me focus on specifics: I noted that in bars 47 – 50, the right-hand octaves on the second beats appears as if they had sf marks—I don’t see this in my score—but why not? Occasional mishaps aside, the pianist sometimes applied “extreme agogics”—such as notable, momentary accelerando. There were also occasional, minute hesitations, which for fractions of a second raised suspicions that the artist lost track. Was this maybe the way he reads Beethoven’s score? I could not tell.

II. Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen

Gentle, serene, peaceful, especially the main theme. Not all transitions worked out as well and harmoniously as the artist may have intended. For example, there was a little discontinuity at bar 60, at the transition to triplets in the left hand.


Sonata No.28 in A major, op.101Herbert Schuch

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

  1. Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung. Allegretto, ma non troppo
  2. Lebhaft, marschmäßig. Vivace alla marcia
  3. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll. Adagio, ma non troppo, con affetto — Zeitmaß des ersten Stückes. Tempo del primo pezzo; tutto il Cembalo ma piano. Alle Saiten
  4. Geschwinde, doch nicht zu sehr, und mit Entschlossenheit. Allegro

The Performance

As with the sonata above: for generic remarks on Herbert Schuch’s playing see my earlier reviews from this festival.

I. Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung

Careful and detailed in dynamics, agogics and phrasing. An occasional tendency towards an excess of sustain pedal. ★★★+

II. Lebhaft, marschmäßig

Detailed and truthful in the dynamics (fp!). I very much liked the p and pp in bars 30ff—here, the sustain pedal (as per instruction by the composer) worked out very well, with singing resonances in the descant. Herbert Schuch observed all three repeats, and, of course, his technique was masterful, flawless. ★★★½

III. Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll — Zeitmaß des ersten Stückes

The main annotation reads “Slow and wistful”—however, Beethoven also added “Adagio, ma non troppo, con affetto” (calm, but not too much, with affection). Herbert Schuch focused on the “slow and wistful”: yes, it was slow, but certainly did not feel too slow: calm, reflecting, pondering, with a wonderful, subtle fermata on the second beat of bar 6. There was a little excess in sustain pedal in bars 11 – 14, but that didn’t really hurt at all. Beethoven only uses “Ped.” after that, and sparingly.

Beautiful cadenza at the end of the first part, infinitely subtle and delicate—the transition to the second part (a transition to the last movement by itself) very harmonious. ★★★½

IV. Geschwinde, doch nicht zu sehr, und mit Entschlossenheit

Excellent dynamic and dramatic arches, lively, poignant agogics: masterful! I noted some subtle arpeggiando playing in the transition to the fugue (after the repeat sign, prior to bar 120). Masterful performance in the fugue, maintaining the tension throughout—a highlight of the festival. ★★★½+

Rating: ★★★½


Sonata No.29 in B♭ major, op.106, “HammerklavierTamar Beraia

For information on the composition see also earlier posts, such as from a recital on 2018-01-31. The movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Scherzo: Assai vivace – Presto – Prestissimo — Tempo I
  3. Adagio sostenuto
  4. Introduzione: Largo… Allegro – Fuga: Allegro risoluto

The Performance

I. Allegro

Here now, Tamar Beraia demonstrated her mastership, her true powers unleashed! An expressive, dramatic, emphatic performance, technically excellent. Of course, she repeated the exposition, and in the repeat (after an already very impressive first pass), the musical flow seemed even more natural and compelling. It’s a monster sonata, not just challenging in the virtuosity, the technical demands, but also requiring vast power reserves. Tamar Beraia was excellent at keeping up the tension, the musical flow, building impressive dramatic arches.

At the beginning of the coda, the artist even increased the tempo a little bit—the score does not ask for this, but it certainly did not do any harm. Congrats! ★★★½

II. Scherzo: Assai vivace – Presto – Prestissimo — Tempo I

Excellent interpretation also here! My only (really minor) quibble is that some of the semiquaver upbeats could have been more poignant, more articulate—but the tempo was already at the limits for the mechanics of a modern concert grand (so, I may be asking for the impossible). The Presto started somewhat moderate—but then built up all the more dramatically towards the Prestissimo climax. Excellent, very impressive! ★★★½

III. Adagio sostenuto

In a way, I think that the real challenge with the Hammerklavier sonata is not in the virtuosic outer movements. Yes, these are technically challenging and require a lot of physical strength and reserves. People who don’t master these will typically not perform this sonata in concert. However, I have seen notable artists fail in this sonata—in the slow movement. The challenge here is not technical or physical, but in maintaining the tension across the big, 15 – 20 minutes musical structure. In other words: “keeping that large movement together”. Often enough, one experiences periods without tension—and occasionally, the entire movement is just plain boring!

Facing the Biggest Challenge…

How did Tamar Beraia do here? Amazingly well—it actually was an excellent performance in maintaining the tension, in phrasing, subtle agogics: one nice arch up to the composed, pivotal gap in bar 27, no loss in tension in the transition to the next arch with the climax in bars 43/44… only a short, momentary drop in intensity in bars 53/54. Definitely, the music was radiating in inner beauty and warmth!

Maybe the demisemiquaver chain in bars 88ff was a tad too dominant (yes, it’s crescendo, but it starts pp…)? However, Tamar Beraia took this as the intensity climax of the entire movement (which it probably is). It’s not the closure of the movement, though, as a major part, another, huge arch begins in bar 113, which I sensed as being the bigger challenge. In fact, the artist did lose track momentarily, left out a major segment—but she managed that so well that listeners not familiar with the movement will not have noticed. The ability to improvise across a memory lapse alone is highly commendable! What counts in concert is the listener’s experience—and in fact, had I not taken notes (and watched the score) during the performance, I might have forgotten about the incident! ★★★

IV. Introduzione: Largo… Allegro – Fuga: Allegro risoluto

Here, Tamar Beraia was definitely in her element! Already the agility, the lightness of the demisemiquaver chain at the Un poco più vivace made me listen up! And indeed, the artist threw herself into the first Allegro segment with momentum and verve. And then the Allegro risoluto fugue! Full of momentum, power, expression, energy, big sonority. And always clear in the polyphonic structures of this masterpiece!

There seemed to be a slight loss in intensity at the p starting around bar 153—but that’s in the dramaturgy of the composition, as Beethoven takes a fresh start: the challenges are also at the listener’s end! In fact, in that second dramatic arch, Tamar Beraia was deploying her seemingly unlimited power reserves and creative power, leaving the listener stunned and almost breathless after this huge, virtuosic challenge: this sure must have felt like a monstrosity at the time of the composition! ★★★+

Overall Rating: ★★★+


Conclusions

Let me add a few words of appreciation for a man / a company that worked in the background, visible only in the intermission: the festival would not have been what it was without the Steinway D-274 in perfect condition, regulated and tuned by Gebrüder Bachmann, Wetzikon—and in particular Urs Bachmann, present here for the recitals on the last day. He is my favorite piano tuner (and probably one of the world’s best, serving prominent international festivals such as Verbier, Ernen, and others)—and naturally, I can only speak positively about the results of his work!



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