Murray Perahia at the Barbican Hall review ***

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Murray Perahia

Barbican Hall, 11th June 2017

  • J S Bach – French Suite No 6 in E major, BWV 817
  • Schubert – 4 Impromptus Op 142, D 935
  • Mozart – Rondo in A minor, K 511
  • Beethoven -Sonata No 32 in C minor, Op 111

Murray Perahia is a great pianist. No doubt about that. And I am always keen to hear his Beethoven interpretations. However the last few concerts I have seen in London from him have been a mixed bag. The solo recital this time last year was a little underwhelming with a fine Mozart A minor sonata offset by a curiously underpowered Hammerklavier. In contrast his Beethoven Piano Concertos 2 and 4 earlier this year, with the Academy of St Martins in the Fields which he also directed, were marvellous. Another performance of PC No 4 under the mighty Bernard Haitink’s baton was also sensational.

In this concert we had a similarly puzzling evening. The Bach was the best of the bunch, played with great clarity and musicality and with that lovely counterpoint revealed in all its perky glory. I won’t comment on the Schubert – I just don’t really get on with it – but the audience was clearly persuaded. I didn’t know the mournful Mozart Rondo but this was a compelling rendition so I will need to check it out.

The Beethoven, his final sonata, with its curious structure and strange, ethereal musings, took a bit of time to get going. Mr Perahia’s treatment of the Maestoso opening of the first movement was more deliberate than the recordings I know (Pollini and Paul Lewis are my favourites) but by the time we reached the fugal development, which uses the whole keyboard, it was back in the groove. The longer second movement, with its six variations largely in C major, was much more convincing and here I got lost in the beauty of Beethoven’s music. The movement is near 20 minutes in total but always seems timeless to me.

So a fine evening of solo piano music but not quite as engrossing as I had hoped.

Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Ades at the Barbican Hall *****

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Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Ades

Barbican Hall, 6th June 2017

  • Gerard Barry – Chevaux-de-frise
  • Beethoven – Symphony No 3 in E Flat Major. Op 55 “Eroica”

That Beethoven eh. Too busy being a genius to get a decent haircut. Another reason why he is my sort of bloke.

I have raved about the other two concerts in this cycle, Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Ades at Milton Court review ***** and Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Ades at the Barbican Hall ***** so I suspect you won’t be too surprised if I do the same again here. Whilst I am not sure I would want my Eroica to always sound this way it was, as with the performances of Symphonies 1 and 2, an exhilarating restatement of this mighty work.

First though the Gerard Barry piece that Thomas Ades chose to pair with it. Apparently this got a kicking when it premiered at the Proms in 1988. I don’t know why. Yes it is loud, sometimes excruciatingly so, but it is hardly difficult. It was inspired by the destruction of the C16 Spanish Armada off the west coast of Barry’s native Ireland. and the title refers to those pointy wooden array of fixed spears that were used on battlefields to defend against cavalry attacks. You educated types will also know that it refers to a spiky piece of prose deliberately inserted by an author to unsettle you.

So Mr Barry didn’t hide his intentions. The piece begins and continues with a wall of sound from strings, then brass and woodwinds and then the whole shebang, and pretty much continues in this vein for most of the first ten minutes. There are then some “softer” interludes and a glockenspiel (I think) chimes in which offers the only percussive influence (thus making the noise-fest more interesting I think). The chords are comprised largely of crotchets and quavers, the score is marked “spikily” or “brutally” and the effect is of pounding dissonant rhythms. I loved it and I suspect that anyone who has been near any form of “loud” rock music from any genre would feel the same way.

Having located the inner Napalm Death in the Britten Sinfonia Mr Ades seemed keen to channel this into the Beethoven symphony. From the off we were treated to fast tempi which is my preferred default setting (one of my favoured Beethoven cycle recordings is John Eliot Gardiner’s with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique which will hearld a few sniggers from classical buffs). Minimal vibrato and a clear, brilliant sound really pumped up the score which, as any fool knows, is a work of unparalleled genius. (I know the “great male genius” narrative of artistic endeavour is bullsh*t but Beethoven just was, so yah boo sucks to you).

It was just really exciting though in places it did threaten to career out of control. Yet the detail of the phrasing and the dynamic breadth more than compensated. This will sound cliched but it really did feel like the whole score had been given a thorough cleansing, like a restored old master.

I cannot recommend this cycle highly enough based on the three symphonies so far. Thomas Ades and the Britten Sinfonia will be back in May next year to take on 4. 5 and 6. Please go along. If you have never been to a classical concert and don’t think it is for you make this your debut. Get a decent recording of these pieces, shove them on your IPhone, wait for the movements to shuffle through a few times to get to know the tunes, then take the time to listen to the whole thing one evening (phone off). This will mean you are tooled up for the real thing come next May. Then sit back and wait for your socks to be blown off.

Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Ades at the Barbican Hall *****

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Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Ades, Mark Stone

Barbican Hall, 2nd June 2017

  • Gerard Barry – Beethoven
  • Beethoven – Symphony No 1 in C Major, Op 21
  • Beethoven – Symphony No 2 in D, Op 36

After the chamber concert earlier in the week reviewed here – Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Ades at Milton Court review ***** – I was really looking forward to this, the first of the cycle of Beethoven symphonies conducted by Thomas Ades with the Britten Sinfonia. I wasn’t disappointed. It was outstanding.

The first thing to say is that the Hall was half-empty. This is a real shame as I think Mr Ades and the BS are outstanding advocates for these masterpieces. Remember this is early Beethoven and these two symphonies rarely get performed. If this is what they do with these pieces then goodness knows what surprises they will spring on us in rest of the cycle with the classic symphonies. The Eroica, No 3, the symphony that changed Western art music, is up next week, 6th June, and I really urge you to take the plunge.

I suppose it is possible that some are trepidatious about Mr Ades pairing Beethoven with Gerald Barry. With the Eroica comes Barry’s Chevaux de Frise which I gather is a full on noise-fest. Right up my strasse but maybe not for the twinset and pearls brigade. But for you young hipsters a perfect bragging opportunity surely.

In this concert the first two symphonies were paired with Mr Barry’s eponymous paean to the great man himself. This takes Beethoven’s famous letters to his “Immortal Beloved” and sets them to music, with a 15 strong band and a bass soloist. Well sort of sets them as the tone of the music often seems to bear no relationship to the overblown prose of Beethoven. It does sort of sound a bit like Mr Barry is taking the p*ss to me, but not in a malicious way, but in a gently affirming way. There is the typical Stravinsky-ian rhythmic propulsion that I now understand is typical of Mr Barry’s music, but this is interspersed with much tenderer tunes. It has the full quota of dissonance but again this seemed less jarring than in his other works. Mark Stone sang, or more precisely, recited the English translation of the text without alteration and with the occasional falsetto shift in character.

The whole effect of the piece then is to strip away the “romantic’ in Beethoven’s words and to emphasise the prosaic. And by doing so it becomes a way of humanising the great man and working against all the mythic baggage that surrounds him. And it ends with a chorale based on “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” that silly old me found quite moving. I still have a strong memory of visiting Heiligenstadt, where Beethoven wrote the sad letters to his brothers and composed the second symphony, many, many years ago on a miserable, chilly winter’s day and this all came flooding back. Anyway I thought this piece was fantastic.

So then we came to the real McCoy. Now, in the interests of full disclosure, this was firmly modern in sound bar the timpani (remember despite being 40 strong here this is nominally a chamber orchestra). Yet the full on, pacey tempos could not be more period if they tried. This for me is the ideal combination. I get the power in these still largely Classical compositions but with all of the sparkly brightness. It also means that the Beethovian trademarks – the look at clever old me “wrong key” opening, the blasting winds and the “just kidding” slow opening to the final movement of the first symphony – and the properly pumped up scherzo and stirring “I’m still standing” repeated tunes of the second symphony – are as fresh as a daisy.

And Mr Ades is an energetic conductor to say the least. Which definitely spills over into the BS’s playing. If you like your Beethoven old-skool gushy romantic probably best to steer clear. If you like your Beethoven with driving rhythms and shapely muscle then this is for you.

Will let you know how the Eroica pans out but I suspect I will like it. After all, after number seven, which is probably the greatest musical achievement ever, its my fave.

BTW in the interests of completeness I should mention another leg of this week’s Beethoven love-in. I went to hear Bernard Haitink (the world’s greatest living conductor) guide the LSO through the third piano concerto with Mitsuko Uchida (one of the world’s greatest living pianists) as soloist. This time the Barbican Hall was full to the rafters. No great surprise. Obviously it was stunning. Mr Haitink doesn’t get up to much on the podium – never has done as I recall – but here is simply no-one better able at phrasing this or any other music. Ms Uchida puts a bit more effort in but that still doesn’t prepare you for the sheer power of her Beethoven playing. It is technically brilliant but it just floors you when she comes in after the long orchestral opening, in the cadenza, and the flourish ahead of the bonkers last movement finale. And by getting perilously close to shutting up shop completely the spaces between the notes in the slow movement were exquisite. She doesn’t do all this diva-ish showing off and never puts herself before the thread of the music. Anyway you get the picture. Can’t think of  a better combination than this soloist with this conductor with this orchestra with this composer. The prolonged applause suggested most agreed with me.

No review as I didn’t stay for the Bruckner. That to me is just masochism.

 

 

Richard Goode at the Royal Festival Hall review ****

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Richard Goode

Royal Festival Hall, 31st May 2017

  • JS Bach – Partita No 6 BWV 830
  • Chopin – Nocturne Op 62/1
  • Chopin – Mazurka Op 41/3
  • Chopin – Mazurka Op 41/4
  • Chopin – Mazurka – Op 50/3
  • Chopin – Polonaise-Fantasie Op 61
  • Beethoven – Sonata No 28 Op 101
  • Beethoven – Sonata No 31 Op 110

Whilst I do not own any recordings by renowned American pianist Richard Goode, and have not (to my knowledge which is fallible) seen him perform in concert, I was attracted to this programme and by his reputation in this repertoire. This certainly did not disappoint particularly in the Beethoven sonatas.

I know the Bach from a Glen Gould recording. For me no-one comes close to Gould’s musicality in Bach on a modern piano but Mr Goode’s more deliberate counterpoint was still in a pleasure in this delightful work. The first movement toccata is kind of the star of the show with a showy fugal structure at its heart. Then we get the dancey movements but as ever with JSB’s partitas (for whatever instrument) they take the dance base and ask the player to give it a thorough workout with many profound touches.

The mazurkas were a little more impactful for me than the Polonaise-Fantasie as this late work is where Chopin starts to get a little overbearing. I confess I am generally more for the smaller scale, “simpler” Chopin works, but the last of the Op 50 set is a bit more ambitious and actually therefore was a more satisfying listen when sandwiched between the chunkier works of Bach and Beethoven.

The slow movements of both of the late Beethoven sonatas were particularly impressive. The final movement of No 28 is a blinding pice of music with its tonal shifts and the acceleration to the finale. The same structure is employed in No 31 but here the songlike first movements and jaunty scherzo ends with a radiant slowish fugal movement which goes through massively dramatic stops and starts. There are plenty of more immediately attractive middle period sonatas and the big bastards like No 29 Hammerklavier and No 32 (all human life is there) but No 31 might be the best of the bunch because its gets more out of less. Anyway who cares, every note on the piano he ever wrote gets me.

 

 

 

Britten Sinfonia and Thomas Ades at Milton Court review *****

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Thomas Ades, Gerald Barry, Britten Sinfonia

Milton Court Concert Hall, 30th May 2017

  • Beethoven – Septet in E Flat Major Op 20
  • Gerald Barry – Five Chorales from the Intelligence Park
  • Beethoven – Piano Trio in E Flat Op 70/2

I’m guessing that composer heaven is a miserable place. All those blokes (the world of classical composition, at least until the mid C20 is, like pretty much every other sphere of human activity, a damning indictment of the patriarchy), sitting at their pianos with a rictus grin unable to conceal their seething of the one bloke who wears a permanently beatific smile. He is called Ludwig van Beethoven and he is smiling to himself (cast that famous scowling portrait of him out of your mind) because he knows he is better, way better, at his job that all the rest of them. And they too know it.

I suppose it is possible to spend a life without Beethoven. I might have done and I know plenty of people who do. And I realise how much of a pretentious pr*ck I sound for saying it. And that I am implicitly asserting the cultural supremacy of Western and “high” art by doing so. This is not my intention. The thing is, his music is just so very, very good. Pulse, beat, rhythm, melody, harmony all perfectly laid out. To quote the zeitgeist there is always an “emotional journey” in our Ludwig’s pieces, sometimes trivial, sometimes on a grand scale. But more importantly there is musical logic. I can’t read music and don’t really understand the language. But I know that this music is, at its best, perfect and can conjure up that sensation of “nothing else mattering but the music” like nothing else.

So I was looking forward to my week of concert going which was basically just one long Ludwig love-in, largely, though not exclusively, in the company of Thomas Ades, and his fellow contemporary composer, Gerald Barry. Mr Barry is a self-confessed Beethoven nut. Mr Ades, whose work betrays his chameleon-like snaffling of the history of Western art music culture, is also a champion, as revealed by this three year cycle of Beethoven symphonies with the Britten Sinfonia, which has just kicked off. I really like Mr Ades as a composer, witness my review of the Exterminating Angel below. But now I have been bowled over by his skill as a performer and conductor as well.

The Exterminating Angel at the Royal Opera House review *****

This chamber concert ahead of the symphonies, kicked off with Beethoven’s Septet. Old Ludwig gave this a right pasting in his life-time as he considered it a bit of a trifle compared to all his later “serious” stuff. Far be it from me to disagree but I think he was wrong on this. It certainly easy on the ear with six movements all based on dance forms, and it unmistakably still Classical, but it is still full to the brim with ideas. Direction is provided by the solo violin and here Thomas Gould was excellent, supple, yet still candid, in his playing.

Mr Ades and Mr Barry then took to the floor for a two piano version of Five Chorales from the Intelligence Park, Mr Barry’s first opera. I have seen performances of his last two operas, The Importance of Being Earnest and Alice’s Adventures Underground (semi-staged and conducted by …. one Thomas Ades), and I bloody loved ’em. Anyone who thinks contemporary opera isn’t for them should see Importance – it is a hoot.

Anyway this piano piece delivers excerpts (literally) from his earlier opera which showcase his rhythmic power and use of comfortable dissonances contrasted with quieter, simpler, almost lyrical passages. It is this bold rhythmic attack that I like as well as the bawdy humour that seems to break out. Mr Ades composes in a similar vein even if the influences are a little more diverse. Their music doesn’t require a PhD to grasp and there is far less of that long, drawn-out, slow movement, plinky-plonky, atonal musing that has turned me off other contemporary composers. I can’t call it easy listening, but it is easy to understand. So seeing them bash the bejesus out of the pianos was a joy.

In the final piano trio, Mr Ades was joined by Thomas Gould on violin and Caroline Deamley on the cello. Op 70 no 2 is a little less well-known that no 1 the “Ghost”, but I prefer it. By now Beethoven was well and truly in his brave new world as he starts shifting us all over the place in terms of mood and tempo but still basically serving up a robust structure amidst all the “how did he do that moments”. Now Mr Ades is a big fella and he packs a punch (as the previous piece had shown) and he did’t hold back here. This contrasted with the more measured reading of violin and cello to great effect (for me if maybe not the purist). But this power is what I think Ludwig heard. There is a perfectly formed skeleton, there is flesh on these bones, and there are pleasing, delicate features. But for me the one abiding characteristic of Beethoven is muscle. And this performance suggests Mr Ades agrees.

I think I am going to like the symphonies.

 

 

Some forthcoming classical music concert ideas (with a bit of nostalgia thrown in)

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Some recommendations – but read the caveats below

So in this post I have tried to draw out some highlights (for me) of the forthcoming classical music seasons at the major London venues.

Remember this blog is for the curious – all you experts out there are permitted to snigger at the below – but we all have to start somewhere. If you are a youngster there are generally lots of ways I gather to blag cheaper tickets. For most venues a bit of forward planning generally helps but is not an essential to get to see what you want to see. Stuff does sell out but rarely immediately (at least the stuff I want to see) in contrast to the best of London’s (non-West End) theatre.

If you are not a massive cognoscenti, like to take a punt on things you don’t know too well, not possessed of perfect hearing or a cheapskate, or, like me, all of the above, then opting for the cheap seats at most of these views turns up what I consider to be an extraordinary bargain. For a tenner or so, and certainly less than a pony (Cockney not equine) you can see and hear two hours of, for example, a world class orchestra, with a world class conductor performing a world class piece of art. Same price as the cinema which is just a shed with a digital print rolling around endlessly. Oh and with all your hard earned cash going to the performers, shareholders and assorted hangers-on, so they can dick about in frocks at the Oscars and expand their already monstrous egos. In the classical music world the performers take way less, the state chips in a bit, there are some rich philanthropists generally subsidising a bit of your visit and there are generally no grasping shareholder types. Who’d have thought … poncey, classical music as a redistributive challenge to the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy.

Right now to the musical caveats. The key thing to bear in mind is that  I cannot abide any of that Romantic, self-indulgent overwrought slush. For me Western classical music stopped around 1830 after your man Beethoven died and then started again in the C20 when Stravinsky pumped up the rhythm. I need to hear a pulse or beat and not get drowned in too much lyricism, melody and expression.

This probably reflects my starting point. When I was a nipper and started listening to music in the mid 1970s our starting point was heavy and progressive rock. Think Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, Supertramp, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple. There might be some enterprising twists and turns, West Coast rock, Marley, Krautrock, Kraftwerk for example but these were rare. And there was a lot that we considered off limits including to my eternal shame, the likes of Bowie, all soul and disco music, the Velvet Underground and similar ilk. Obviously I eventually saw the error of my ways and have been on a self imposed course of cultural re-education for many years to correct these flaws notably in the case of Bowie. However the heavy/progressive rock DNA cannot be eradicated.

BUT fortunately Punk came to the rescue. Now it took a bit of time to wend its way down to Devon and I can’t deny that shoulder length hair and velvet flares was the look I favoured to attract the ladies until the very end of the 1970s but our music tastes changed substantially for the better. So the golden period for shaping my musical tastes was 1978 to 1985. That is not to say the old order was entirely overthrown (Led Zeppelin at Knebworth in 1979, Pink Floyd The Wall in 1980 were the most obvious aberrations) but a near religious devotion to the NME and especially John Peel for the first few years of that golden age saw a firm shift to the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Gang of Four, Talking Heads and the like. I confess that the appreciation of the Fall, Wire and the Wedding Present, now firm favourites, was rather more retrospective and the Smiths too took a bit of time. Anyway hopefully you get the picture. After that life caught up and my appreciation of pop/rock/indie was a more haphazard/measured affair until the last few years. (PS I do realise I just how cliched my musical taste is but unfortunately it probably won’t stop me expanding further on some of these likes in a misty eyed way in future blogs)

The same trajectory applied to my appreciation of classical music. The middle/late 1980s saw the first forays following a bunch of free concerts (oh to be young) which was fairly eclectic but ended up largely centred on Britten, Shostakovich and Beethoven and very little else. And then the ramp up in the past few years. This has meant an expansion into minimalist music (previously it was pretty much Arvo Part and not much else), the beginnings of an understanding of Stravinsky, a reversal from Beethoven into Haydn (but not Mozart), a major Baroque expansion (largely Vivaldi and now other Italians with a bit of Bach) and finally an understanding of the joys of Early Music. I reckon that is enough to keep me going until my time is up.

So those are the parameters around which the recommendations below are made. No doubt some musicologist can make sense of all of this but I will stick with “I know what I like”.

Oh and the final caveat – it’s only going to work if you are based in London. Sorry.

Anyway “hear” you go (ha ha).

  • Barbican Hall – 1st May 2017 7.30pm – Music in 12 Parts by Philip Glass – yep his hallmark piece over the thick end of 4 hours played by a crew of superb musicians – not the easiest way into vintage Glass but maybe the best – looks like some tckets still up for grabs but this will sell out I reckon
  • Barbican Hall – 6th June 2017 7.30pm – a Gerald Barry piece, Chevaux de Frise which I don’t know but sound like a blast, and Beethoven Symphony no 3 – Britten Sinfonia – conductor Thomas Ades – Beethoven 3 is the big shift out of the Classical period – Thomas Ades loves Beethoven and is one of our greatest current composers – as does/is Gerald Barry – they both write contemporary operas people actually want to see  – and the Britten Sinfonia are the top bananas at interpreting contemporary music so sound different to the big orchestras – still loads of tickets here
  • Cadogan Hall – 16th June 2017 7.30pmDebussy’s Prelude, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich 5th Symphony – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – two of my favourites here and the Debussy is bearable – but a nice, straightforward programme with a bit of showy stuff – again lots of tickets going here given the plain vanilla nature of the evening
  • Barbican Hall – 23rd June 2017 7.30pmMonteverdi’s Vespers – Academy of Ancient Music – vocal masterpiece of early Baroque – just extraordinary even now – written as a way to drum up business by Monteverdi – I defy you not to lik ethis
  • Wigmore Hall – 29th June 2017 7.30pm – Alte Musik Academie Berlin – Isabelle Faust on the violin – Bach suites and concertos – generally we Brits (sorry for not being sufficiently European) are the period music experts but this bunch are one of the best in the world
  • Barbican Hall – 21st September 7pm and 24th September  2017 6pm so not too late on a Sunday evening – Stravinsky Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring – London Symphony Orchestra – conducted by Simon Rattle – so here you get all 3 of the classic Stravinsky ballet scores in one evening, conducted by Rattle who is coming home to lead the LSO – and I like his Stravinsky interpretations – this is set to be extraordinary – this will sell out so get your skates on as this is a real highlight
  • Kings Place – 16th December 7.30pm – Tenebrae and Oliver Coates cello – a whole bunch of different composer works, songs, hymns and carols for voices and cello – lovely Christmassy stuff
  • Barbican Hall – 29th March 2018 7.30pm – Evgeny Kissin – Chopin Mazurkas and Etudes selection and Beethoven Hammerklavier Sonata – now I normally avoid the showy pianists like the plague and Kissin definitely fits the bill – but if you want to see a piano recital just like you imagine it to be – think extravagant diva Russian type with bushy hair banging the keys like there is no tomorrow and then hunched gently with the merest of taps on the keys – then he is your man
  • Barbican Hall – 4th May 2018 7.30pm – Los Angeles Philharmonic and London Symphony Chorus– Beethoven Symphony no 9 Choral and Bernstein Chichester Psalms – conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (another curly, long haired fellow) – so this is the pick I think of the visiting orchestras in the 17/18 London season – with the wunderkind Venezuelan Dudamel conducting – he made his name with the Venezuelan Simon Bolivar Orchestra which all the luvvies adore – anyway who knows how this will sound but it is the Choral Symphony and the Bernstein piece is a belter as well – mind you they are charging 30 quid even up in the back of the circle
  • Queen Elizabeth Hall – 11th May 2018 7.30pm – mostly Ligeti chamber music – right this is proper contemporary stuff – no tunes here – but Ligeti was a master – so give it a whirl – YouTube the Trio for Horn. Violin and Piano to see what you think
  • Barbican Hall – 31st May 2018 7.30pm– Academy of Ancient Music – soloist Nicola Benedetti – Telemann and Vivaldi concertos – nice easy way into the masters of Baroque strings with a period instrument band and a soloist who is not however too bound to the period performance tropes

There you have it.

Pollini at the RFH review *****

MAURIZIO POLLINI

Maurizio Pollini

Royal Festival Hall, 14th March 2017

Now I am afraid I don’t know much about classical music but I am learning. I can’t read music or play to save my life. There are vast chunks of the classical music canon that I don’t get on with. I have recordings of the composers I do get on with though in only a few cases do I have more than one recording of the same piece.

But I do know what I like (a statement which will need debunking when it comes to culture generally but that is for another time). And what I do like is Maurizio Pollini playing Beethoven. His recordings are my favourites (along with Paul Lewis, Glenn Gould and a bit of Ashkenazy). Now I have no doubt that there are other recordings I should explore but all in good time.

So suffice to say I was bound to like this. However I was not bowled over by his Chopin performances in February at the RFH (and I did not stay for the Debussy – on the list of stuff I don’t get on with I fear). This however was altogether a marvellous experience.

Pollini for me makes sense of the music in a way that I can understand. I gather some think him a bit cold and clinical if I read the reviews correctly but for me I hear the logic of the music laid out with perfect clarity with enough emotion to lift me up as well.

He kicked off with some Schoenberg. Now I know I am supposed to grasp why Schoenberg was so important to the development of C20 music. I am also coming on in leaps and bounds with my appreciation of contemporary classical music and have started (slowly) delving in to the likes of Xenakis and Ligeti for example. And I can genuinely say that I am starting to “get” some of this stuff.

I can also claim to be making progress with the boy Berg having seen and heard Woyzeck, Lulu and the Violin Concerto in recent months. No idea yet why Woyzeck is so clever in terms of musical construction as I can’t hear the structures yet but I think I will get there.

However so far Schoenberg has eluded me. Mind you that may reflect the fact that I have only heard that Verklarte Nacht a couple of times live and that to me is a bit of syrupy romantic tosh that I cannot fathom.

Now I can’t pretend that Mr Pollini has converted me but I did concentrate on the two pieces he played in a way that pleasantly surprised me: 3 Pieces for piano, Op.11 ; 6 Little pieces for piano, Op.19. More work for me to do but I think this may be the way into Schoenberg’s world for me. I still could hear a tonal thread but with enough variety and drama to draw me in.

As for the Beethoven well the stand out in the Op 13 “Pathetique” was the Adagio slow movement (mind you anything chorale like is bound to work for a simpleton like me) and I got a bit lost in the final Rondo but that was probably my fault for not concentrating enough. But after the interval the two movement Op.78 “à Thérèse” (I gather the F sharp major key here is the reason this sounds a bit different) and the Op.57 “Appassionata” (where Beethoven delights in exploiting leaps in piano technology) were simply wonderful.

To me Mr Pollini seems to be a little freer in his interpretations compared to the recordings. Mind you those recordings apparently span much of the career of an artist who has been at it for seven decades now. Imagine that. Going to work every day for nearly 60 years trying to get better at what you do whilst giving pleasure to everyone around you. That is “sticking it to the man”. (Indeed I gather Mr Pollini did indeed pursue a more classically politically engaged stance in the 1960s and 1970s making even more of a hero in my book).

Anyway this was just about perfect – I had the thing that I like about concerts when it works where you are just completely immersed in the music. Seemed to me that was shared by the audience (though there was some ar*e trying to record the Schoenberg on their phone until they were told off – I shall return to this subject in later posts but for me this is a bloody outrage).

So here’s the deal. This blog is generally aimed at the culturally curious armed with only a tiny bit of knowledge. For those who know they like or think they might like Beethoven and want to delve into the piano sonatas then this would have been no better way to start. For just a tenner (assuming you are prepared to compromise a bit on the sound at the back of the stalls and don’t mind not seeing the maestro’s hands at work) you can hear this music played by this man who surely ranks as one of the greatest living pianists.

Of course that is no use now it has been and gone but I highly recommend looking out for the great man’s return next year (March 2018). If Beethoven appears just grab a ticket or two.

And while you are at it treat yourself to the complete recordings of the Beethoven sonatas. it took a bit of time I gather for Mr Pollini to record everything but there they are – for £33 on Amazon you get 8 discs (don’t talk to me about downloads – I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to own physical copies of this music). Get these and decent complete sets of the symphonies and the strong quartets and you will be well on the way to immersing yourself in probably the greatest music every written (the Fall excepted).