Caterina Grewe at St Mary’s

Tuesday 8 December 4.00 pm 

Caterina Grewe (piano)

Beethoven: Sonata in C# minor Op 27 no 2 ‘Moonlight’

Adagio sostenuto-Allegretto-Presto agitato

Liszt: Sonata in B minor S178

Lento assai-Allegro energico-Grandioso-Adagio sostenuto-Allegro energico-Lento assai

A fascinating recital of two masterworks recreated before our very eyes with the simplicity and directness that only a great musician could achieve.Always anchored to a solid bass that gave such weight and depth to whatever she did.Schenker is what Murray Perahia calls it but whatever name you give it the end result is what counts.It is the feeling as Chopin puts it of having the roots of the tree so firmly planted that the branches are seemingly free to move as they please .A very poetic way of putting it of course.We all know that baroque music is based on the figured bass and I remember a masterclass with Murray Perahia explaining that the phrasing of the Bach Partita being excellently played was simply decided by the bass harmonic movement.Arrau was of course a master of this and the weight and depth of sound that he could produce has rarely been equalled by lesser mortals!

It was exactly that logic that Caterina Grewe brought to the two works she played today.There was delicacy,passion,pyrotechnics and simplicity with a complete technical command but the rhythmic undercurrent was what swept us up and would not let us go from the first note to the last.The final three beseeching chords of the Liszt sonata had the same magnetic power as the superb earlier passionate outburst of transcendental octaves.

It was the utter simplicity of the Adagio sostenuto of the so called ‘Moonlight ‘Sonata that was so poignant .It was interesting to learn in Caterina’s charming introduction not only about the title which was not Beethoven’s invention or according to Caterina,intention.I did not know though that the theme was taken from Don Giovanni by Mozart from the orchestral interlude after the stabbing .So maybe Funeral March might have been a better title although commercially not quite as enticing!I have searched for evidence of this in Tito Aprea’s very entertaining and informative book ‘Rubato,ma non troppo’!He missed this most obvious case as had I too .I have had plenty of time to think about it as it was the set piece almost 60 years ago for my Grade 8 exam!

The absolute stillness of the opening movement,never forcing the tone but was seemingly allowed to speak for itself with such disarming simplicity.It translated into modern terms the long pedal indications that the composer had written in the score for the instruments of the period and certainly not those of today two hundred years later.A beautifully shaped Allegretto and Trio and I particularly admired the bass voicing that followed the melodic line.The typical Beethovenian sforzandi were a bit understated though and would have given more character and a change from the pastoral mood already created in the previous movement.The Presto agitato flew from her fingers with irresistible forward impetus and was played with such unsmudged clarity due to her sparing use of the sustaining pedal.It made even more contrast with the mellifluous second subject that although riding on a relentless bass,because of her superb sense of balance,it was beautifully shaped without loosing the driving rhythmic force.The tumultuous final cascades of notes were played with a full sumptuous sound before the momentary release of tension before the hard driven end.

The Liszt Sonata was dedicated to Schumann in return for the dedication of the Fantasie op 17.A copy of the work arrived at Schumann’s house in May 1854, after he had entered Endenich sanatorium. Schumann’s wife Clara,an accomplished concert pianist and composer in her own right, did not perform the Sonata; according to scholar Alan Walker she found it “merely a blind noise”.

And it can be indeed in the wrong hands.When Annie Fischer came to Rome with the Liszt Sonata in her programme she asked on arrival if she could substitute it with Brahm’s F minor Sonata op 5.She had just been on the jury of the Franz Liszt competition in Budapest where she had heard it so many times she never wanted to hear it again!In the hands of mere virtuosi it can loose its value as the pinnacle of the Romantic piano repertoire.It takes a great musician to lead us from the first to the last whispered notes in this work where Liszt’s transformation of the opening three ideas is what illuminated the path for Wagner – who also became his son in law!It takes a great musician that can unite this single movement work into a great arch of such power and subtlety without loosing the elusive thread.It can so easily turn into a series of episodes instead of a whole in continuous transformation.Many great virtuosi are seduced by the technical feats required and loose sight of the very meaning of this masterpiece.

Caterina showed us today the path that she strode with absolute clarity and great sense of forward movement that left no time for sentimentality or showmanship.In her attempt at absolute clarity some of the more dramatic octaves could have had more substance – the difference between a violin and a horn where staccato or marcato make entirely different sounds due to the very nature of the instruments.But the sumptuous sounds in the first Grandioso were unforgettable in the power she produced without any hardness- the secret of the past age of a Youra Guller or Magda Tagliaferro .The stark recitativo chords had a hollowness to them that contrasted so well with the ritenuto ed appassionato replies.There was an absolute stillness on which entered the Andante sostenuto heralding a great change from the demonic to the imploring.It made the passionate outpouring in the middle section even more breathtaking.With its almost indecent passion before the bubble bursts and we are plunged into a magic land of whispered scales played with a delicacy but also a forward movement that took us almost unawares to the return of the opening motif.One could also talk about Caterina’s transcendental technical command in the most demanding of passages.The final treacherous octaves were played with total assurance because she gave them like everything else a meaning and a place in this great jigsaw puzzle.There are no technical difficulties when a true musician can show us the way as Caterina did quite remarkably today.

German-Japanese Pianist Caterina Grewe, born in Tokyo, has performed to great critical acclaim throughout the world. She has won numerous prizes at world-renowned piano competitions such as third prize at the Maria Canals International Piano Competition in Barcelona and the Dublin International Piano Competition where she was a finalist and prize winner in 2015. Other prizes include First Prize at the 2010 Lagny-Sur-Marne International Piano Competition in Paris, First Prize at the Norah Sande Award in Eastbourne in 2010, First Prize at the 2011 Mayenne International Piano Competition in France, and First Prize at the 2014 Rhodes International Piano Competition in Greece. She studied at the Hamburg Conservatory, at the Chetham’s School of Music and completed her studies at the Royal College of Music in 2013 where she graduated with distinction. She is now a Piano Professor at the Royal College of Music and also teaches at the Purcell School and at St Paul’s School.

https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2020/04/08/caterina-grewe-at-st-marys-a-dream-of-utopia/

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