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Pianoissimo in Wetzikon - A concert report

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Jan. 5, 2014
Dear forists,
Here in the Zurich Oberland there was again high piano culture to be experienced this year.
Here is a critical experience report from me, which will probably appear soon in Switzerland with small changes by the editor. But it is already ready for you to read.
Who of you was also there and can also contribute something to the performers?

As every year, the piano rissimo concert series ran again this year in Wetzikon under its charismatic artistic director Werner Bärtschi. Various pianists, including well-known names such as Fazil Say, Ingolf Wunder and old master Jörg Demus, gave each other the honor. Unfortunately I only managed to attend concerts by Alena Cherny, Jörg Demus, Werner Bärtschi and Fazil Say.

The Ukrainian pianist Alena Cherny - by now already at home * with us - started with a fascinating program. Beethoven's sonata opus 2/1 demands a lot of creative will from the interpreter. It is also often referred to as the smaller "Appassionata". Alena Cherny relied on fast tempos which she mastered brilliantly. Occasionally, however, one was surprised at the numerous phrasing errors in the first movement or in the minuet. Take the Mannheim rocket as an example: Beethoven first noted staccato and then a legato. With Alena Cherny you just couldn't hear the legato and all the notes were played briefly ... maybe a more moderate tempo wouldn't have hurt to better express the details. The famous sonata "Der Sturm" was much better. Here the pianist was in her element. She created the dramatic passages powerfully and with an iron rhythm. The 2nd movement was finally designed with a lot of sense for the "Cantabile game". *
In the second part of the concert, Schubert D 946 and Brahms opus 118 were on the program.
Here, too, the pianist offered a convincing performance in terms of pure technology.
Her Schubert unfortunately suffered from a lot of * pedals and an overly strong left hand, which strengthened the bass range to such an extent that one could only guess the melody line.
In Brahms opus 118 the excessive use of the pedals was less of a problem. But I did not understand her point of view, e.g. in the Intermezzo in F minor. The deviation in rhythm and structure from the musical text was too great for me.
Nevertheless, one can speak of an interesting piano recital that I wouldn't want to miss.

Now to the concert with old master Jörg Demus. The anticipation to hear him again after a long time in Switzerland was great. The program, more than ambitious for an 85-year-old artist. I now attended this concert full of awe.
Unfortunately, one was taught better very quickly.
Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue at the beginning unfortunately turned into a somewhat questionable improvisation. Demus did not succeed in separating the various voices from one another. He also made use of the strange peculiarity of allowing every more difficult scale to float in the pedal.
One would have liked more clarity here. The solidly laid out basic tempo of the fugue changed, so to speak, in every bar. An approach that unfortunately has to be described as problematic.
This was followed, however, by a very fine rendition of Mozart's * Rondo. The old master had now warmed up.
Despite various freedoms, Jörg Demus showed a great art of phrasing and a great sense for sound culture. Here you were perfectly happy.
Before the break, the monumental Opus 111 Sonata by Beethoven followed. A touchstone for every pianist. *
Here Jörg Demus reached his pianistic limits. In addition to major - probably age-related - coordination problems of the right and left hands, there were also many text errors. Pauses noted by Beethoven were simply ignored ... the tempo often changed depending on the level of difficulty. Perhaps out of great nervousness?
In the development of the first movement, the work even threatened to fall apart. Even the few wonderful moments, for example in the 2nd sentence, couldn't really make up for it. There were also numerous text errors here. A trill suddenly turned into a triplet.
Nevertheless, the audience paid tribute to the 85-year-old pianist with much applause.
In the second part of this piano evening, Jörg Demus felt like a different person again.
The "Kinderszenen" by Robert Schumann * turned out to be very lyrical and also subtle. Particularly beautiful moments were to be heard in "Träumerei", in "The poet speaks" and in "From foreign countries and people". The conclusion was then made by Cesar Franck's "Prelude, Choral et Fugue". Here, too, the interpretation was convincing across the board, albeit with slight pianistic restrictions. There were no tempo problems here, as with Bach before.
In the end one was torn between the admiration for a pianist who still plays at this age and the fact that 50% of the program was difficult for the trained listener to reasonably expect.
A somewhat ambivalent piano evening.

This was followed by the concert with the artistic director of the concert series himself.
Werner Bärtschi stood in for the sick Polina Leschenko.
Bärtschi has been part of the Swiss pianist elite for years and lived up to his name with this concert. Mozart's Sonata in E flat major KV 282 was played with the utmost care and attention to detail. Also impressive was the fact that the performer used little or no pedal and still implemented the original phrasing in an exemplary manner. As a result, his Mozart was detoxified and free of any mannerism .... Great.
A similar picture emerged in Schubert's Sonata in A minor D 784. He's only expanding his color palette, so to speak, with a demonic undertone. He played the bass lines so powerfully and clearly and in perfect harmony with the melody. Something that both Cherny and Demus failed to do.
The second movement was also extremely fine. The highlight was then the 3rd movement.
Bärtschi lived through Schubert's soul construct at a fast pace, sometimes with somewhat harsh accents, in a way that today can only very rarely be experienced in a concert hall with so much passion and textual accuracy. His interpretation will stay with me forever. You were really intoxicated by its variety of sounds.
After this ingenious rendition of Schubert's a minor sonata, the 5th piano sonata by Galina Ustvolskaya followed as a sharp contrast. A composition that I heard here for the first time in a concert.
Here Bärtschi proved to be an exemplary interpreter of modern literature.
Even if I did not fully understand the work, which is primarily due to the composition, the interpreter once again showed his versatility.
Beethoven's Sonata in E flat major, opus 7, concluded the work. The artist also succeeded in doing this very well. Nevertheless, I was less impressed by his Beethoven than his Schubert. Perhaps it would have been wise to put the Schubert Sonata at the end of the concert? *
In any case, there were really great moments to be experienced. That's why I quickly wished to hear Werner Bärtschi again soon. Maybe next season.

Now to one of my favorite pianists: the last concert I attended was Fazil Say. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay until the break, which meant I missed two Mozart sonatas. *
At the beginning there was Janacek's sonata fragment in E flat minor, a work that is not often found in concert. Say, a master of program music, empathized with Janacek's tonal language in a special way and impressively showed all his skills to bring the contracted composition to life, which he also succeeded admirably.
With Bernd Alois Zimmermann's * Eight Pieces from "Enchiridion" the listener was put to the test a little. It required full attention to follow the composer's intentions. "Meditation", "Ostinato" and "Imagination" were easily accessible to me. All pieces were performed with great commitment.
It continued with Stravinsky's * Three Movements from Pétrouchka. The "Danse russe" is breathtaking ... a truly masterful reproduction. Here Fazil Say showed why he has been one of the audience's favorites for many years.

I am now looking forward to an exchange of ideas with you ...

With best regards
Key miki
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