Cristian Budu, Werner Bärtschi, Alina Bercu
Klavierissimo 2020 — Beethoven: Piano Sonatas 30 – 32

KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2020-02-01 20h00


2020-02-23 — Original posting


Alina Bercu, Klavierissimo / KZO Wetzikon, 2019-02-01 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Alina Bercu, Klavierissimo / KZO Wetzikon, 2019-02-01 (© 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.30 up to No.32:

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.

In this last review in the series, I (again) try focusing on the essentials. For generic comments on individual artists and their performances see my earlier reviews from the festival. For artists’ biographies see the first post in the series.

Sonata No.30 in E major, op.109Cristian Budu

For information on the composition see also earlier posts from concert performances. The movements:

  1. Vivace ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo
  2. Prestissimo
  3. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo

The Performance

I. Vivace ma non troppo — Adagio espressivo

A lot of pedal—often too much, I think (Beethoven was very specific about where he wanted the sustain pedal to be used).

II. Prestissimo

Also here: an excess of pedal blurring, which obscures the articulation. Superficialities, occasionally just gross, inconsistencies in the musical flow.

III. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo

Already in the theme iI missed the poetry, agogics, subtlety: the ornament (turn) in bar 6 was stiff, and I found the pedaling to be sloppy. Overall, the performance seemed too metric—not dead, but relatively boring. Yes, there is a sf on the first note in bar 29 (apparently rf in the autograph), but does that need to be so poignant, almost sff??

The transition to the second part of variation II at bar 41 (and its equivalent in bar 57) felt rather disruptive. Despite the blurred articulation, one could hear several missed keys in the semiquaver runs in variation III. The blurring continued in variations IV and V. However, just as much as the missing clarity in the articulation, I missed a compelling overall vision, coherence in the musical flow, and even more so subtlety, poetry—especially in such miraculously beautiful music! Beethoven might have made the last bar sound like an open question—here, it rather felt as if the pianist had no clue what to do with this.

Rating: ★★½


Sonata No.31 in A♭ major, op.110Werner Bärtschi

For information on the composition see also my earlier post with a comparison of various recordings, or also my reports from earlier concert performances. The movements:

  1. Moderato cantabile molto espressivo
  2. Allegro molto
  3. Adagio ma non troppo –
  4. Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo

The Performance

I. Moderato cantabile molto espressivo

Werner Bärtschi’s best performance in this festival, with beautiful arches across each of the themes, with only a minor, momentary loss of tension at the transition around the modulation from A♭ major to E major around bars 68/69, and also the transition / modulation back to A♭ major at bar 78 didn’t work out quite as harmoniously as intended. But these were minor incidents in an otherwise convincing interpretation

II. Allegro molto

Sadly, this movement was riddled by mishaps that distracted the listener’s attention. On the bright side, the artist observed both repeats.

III. Adagio ma non troppo –

In the introductory Adagio ma non troppo, Werner Bärtschi sure enjoyed the sonority of the instrument. he clearly was “helping it with the sustain pedal”—but without exaggeration. The pedal blurring in the “modulating recitative”, as well as the subsequent Arioso dolente was exactly as intended by the composer: the cantilena was very expressive, “talking”, with the slightly irregular flow of natural, human language.

IV. Allegro ma non troppo

Even though his playing was anything but dry (using the sustain pedal for best sonority), Werner Bärtschi’s playing remained transparent in the fugue. The theme was always clearly present, also amidst complex polyphonic structures, and the pianist built an impressive dynamic arch over the first part, until the mourning recitative returned. The latter again was intense, expressive—the progressive exhaustion of course composed.

I wasn’t quite happy with the second fugue: the beginning wasn’t really compelling—it felt as if the pianist didn’t know which tempo to select. Beethoven added detailed tempo instructions (“gradually accelerating”, etc.). So, it isn’t meant to be uniform in the pace—and I concede that making this sound conclusive isn’t easy. However, soon after the tempo primo (bar 174), it felt as if the composer “won”: the final 40 bars are so enthralling, so ravishingly beautiful and touching, like an irresistible “pull into paradise, into transfiguration” that the music can hardly fail: one of the most intense moments in Beethoven’s work altogether—and I’m sure Werner Bärtschi felt the same way.


Sonata No.32 in C minor, op.111Alina Bercu

For information on the composition see also my earlier post with a comparison of various recordings, or also my reports from earlier concert performances. The movements:

  1. Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato
  2. Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile

The Performance

I. Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato

Most interpretations that I heard so far tended to over-accentuate the demisemiquaver upbeats, as if the goal was to do them as fast as humanly possible (almost as with triple punctuation). In Alina Bercu’s interpretation, all of them appeared with careful, disciplined, conscious articulation and timing. Clarity also in the dynamics, and in the articulation in general—certainly no excess blurring through the sustain pedal!

The entire movement was technically remarkably clean—an excellent performance! I barely have any quibbles—Alina Bercu even did the repeat of the exposition. She has plenty of power reserves and performed with impressive dynamics: congrats! I don’t imply that the performance was perfect—it was excellent, indeed, but may still evolve into more expression, maybe more risk-taking? I do have one minor remark: in bars 146 – 149, the pianist bridged the pauses with the sustain pedal. Why? Sonority? ★★★½

II. Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile

I noted the rhythmically truthful playing: Alina Berciu performed with emphasis, beautiful, rich agogics—and with care and consideration. In particular, I realized how diligently she observed the 9/16 meter, making sure the quaver + semiquaver motifs never degraded to punctuated 3+1 note values. I don’t mean to indicate that the artist was over-cautious or too careful, but she certainly avoided extremes, and there is still room for additional expression, and maybe extra risk and spontaneity?

The Variations

As for the variations: Alina Bercu consciously and consequently built dramatic arches over each of the variations, and on top of that built up intensity from one variation to the next: in the jazzy 12/32 variation, she definitely let her “horses loose”: what joy and vivacity in that climax! The movement then calms down, entering the seemingly endless 9/16 leggiermente stretch—quite a challenge at the moderate pace that the artist selected—however, she was really marvelous at keeping the tension.

I particularly also liked the excellent dynamics in the segment with single, then double trills (bars 106 – 117), and also the long phrasing arch over the final C major section with its several climaxes was simply amazing. One last quibble, though: I found the rallentando in the final till section (bars 160 – 177) too strong, extreme—actually (entirely?) unnecessary. I don’t say it hurt the result—but it certainly didn’t help either. ★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★½

Thanks to Alina Bercu for ending the festival with another, touching and atmospheric highlight!


Conclusions

The festival day ended with a harmonious closing ceremony with all five pianists. This completed a week with a very rich experience and a fascinating “panorama view” into Beethoven’s piano sonata oeuvre. The performances weren’t (all) aiming for perfection, and not all pianists were equally successful in the sonatas they performed. However, for reasons outlined in my first post, I have not rated all performances, nor am I summarizing the ratings for all artists and interpretations here.

As for myself: I also mentioned that for me, this turned out a fairly strenuous experience—with carefully listening to seven recitals (with the score on my lap), while also taking photos, etc. I ended up with over 3000 pictures, a selection of which (around 10%) I have included in my blog posts. Working up the photos alone was a lot of work. However, I never fell tired of listening to Beethoven’s music, and I regard this year’s Klavierissimo Festival a rich and highly rewarding experience: thanks for all who contributed!

Finally: many thanks to our neighbor Véronique. She is a member of Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland and gave us enough of her free membership tickets that I didn’t have to pay for a single one of these recitals!



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