Thursday 10 February 3.00 pm
Sonata in E major Op 109
Vivace / Prestissimo / Andante with variations
The New Testament of the piano literature.Some notes and thoughts stimulated by the performance today.
Op.109 There was a chiselled beauty to the sound that flowed so naturally as it was allowed to sing due to an extraordinary sense of balance and above all a scrupulous attention to Beethoven’s very precise indications in the score.Beethoven’s own pedal mark that links the first and second movement without a break- so often overlooked as the meaning of Beethoven’s pedal markings are dismissed by lesser mortals!.There was a string quartet texture to the last movement and a striking clarity to the turn so often thrown off as an aside but here every note given real meaning.There was a strikingly beautiful luminosity to the first variation where the deep bass notes were the very anchor of a variation that can often slip into waltz time!There was absolute control of texture in the second variation with no accommodating ritardando so there was no loss of rhythmic energy even in the teneramente contrasting episodes .The Allegro vivace third variation was like a volcano unleashed with superlative precision and a rhythmic drive I have only ever heard from Serkin .The fourth variation was like a ray of sunlight suddenly appearing on the horizon only slightly missing the off beat sforzandi and Beethoven’s own pedal indication in the long tremolando.It was at the end of this variation that I felt ended rather too abruptly to contrast with the authoritarian fugato that follows.The end of the fugato too could anticipate the tempo prima of the final extraordinary sixth variation,The same for the return of the theme where the etherial trills should dissolve more naturally into the opening theme almost like the opening of a magic door where an imperceptible gasp of astonishment could recreate this magic moment.Beethoven had marked after all one long pedal from the beautifully placed bass E that becomes the anchor for the first note of the return of the theme.
Sonata in A flat major Op 110
Moderato / Allegro / Adagio / Allegro
There was a luminosity of sound from the very first notes of op 110 with the fermata on the trill unravelling so naturally as the ravishing beauty of this movement is revealed .The magical change from E natural to D sharp was played with a simplicity that was very moving without any artificial slowing or underlining,The two short chords at the end played like two final gasps.The Trio section of the Allegro molto was given a kick start from the two bass notes of each phrase that made the syncopations even more startling and gave great authority to what can be very treacherous waters for some!There was great weight and significance in every note of the Adagio that reminded me of certain passages in the Bach B minor mass such was the burning intensity of simple expression and depth of meaning.The complicated pedal indications in the bebung ( notes made to vibrate ) were so magical that the throbbing intensity of Beethoven’s heartbeat became almost unbearably intense before the disarming simplicity of the Arioso dolente.There was a great forward movement to the fugue that interrupts the aria before it’s return and I would have avoided all accents on the two chords before the magical modulation that heralds the ever more poignant reappearance of the aria where Beethoven asks ‘ perdendo le forze,dolente.’There was magic in the air with the final long pedal held chords beautifully judged as they disintegrate into the reappearance of the fugue in inversion.Here too was one of those magical moments where more sense of astonishment and wonder would have added to this remarkable moment.The final great build up led to the release of tension on the A flat chord where a total control of tempo would have given even more impact to this ending in glory.Even Schnabel notorious for his impetuosity writes here ‘non accelerando’…….easy to write but hard to do when the adrenaline is flowing so passionately!
Sonata in C minor Op 111
Maestoso – Allegro / Adagio
Op 111 opened with enviable authority and importance – Maestoso as Beethoven writes.Beethoven wrote for the bass trill at the end of the introduction to be played without pedal which Cristian played so perfectly in pianissimo (the same technical feat that Schubert asks in his final sonata).The Allegro con brio was played with superb technical control and chiselled sounds boiling over at 100 degrees .There was a great sense of exaltation and release of tension in the two short recitativi and Cristian’s scrupulous attention to detail was quite remarkable.Even the final three chords were played in diminuendo to pianissimo but without any relaxing of the rhythmic tension created.This meant of course that the simplicity of the Arietta was even more poignant.There was unrelenting virtuosity and almost brutal accents with the sforzandi in the third variation before the gradual disintegration of the theme over a murmured bass all played with startling clarity .There was aristocratic control in the long build up to the final release to a magical world of trills where the theme was allowed to be heard so clearly in this wondrous landscape.I would have placed the final chords in the last two bars with more weight.Not with a ritardando but an inner feeling that we had come to the end of a long journey and with exhaustion and relief we arrive home to the final C major chord .
Some truly remarkable playing from a Cristian Sandrin reborn.As Hugh Mather said at the end ‘he played the trilogy as Beethoven would have imagined it in his secret ear that he was forced to inhabit towards the end of his life.’
Easy to say but so difficult to transmit unless you follow Beethoven’s incredibly precise indications that he was able miraculously to notate better than any computer could possibly do today.
Because there are seemingly impossible juxtapositions of forte and piano,of legato and non legato,of never adding a polite rallentando at the end of a phrase unless Beethoven specifically indicates it.Not to mention the meaning of his pedal markings like the end of the first movement of op 109 linked so clearly to the Prestissimo that follows and the sinister bass vibration in op 111 before the Allegro con brio.
These are lessons that all those that were privileged to hear Brendel and Serkin in their greatest moments would understand.
Serkin was still kicking and trembling way after the last chord of the Hammerklavier had been struck.
Brendel too brought to the Diabelli variations a final chord that was the release of mounting tension .An unforgettable experience that I was privileged to experience in my student days in London.
Today in this little church in the beautiful surroundings of Perivale golf course ,this Mecca for pianists that is Dr Mathers dream come true,we were privileged to witness the birth of another supreme interpreter of Beethoven.
As unexpected as it was overwhelming.
I have known Cristians playing from when he was one of the most talented students at the Royal Academy.A very fine musician often to be heard conducting or playing from the keyboard.
Today there was a total understanding of the very complex character of Beethoven that lies hidden in the scores for those few that have the total dedication and of course technical skill and supreme musicianship to unravel the secrets that Beethoven was so miraculously able to notate.
All I can add is an appreciation ,maybe point at one or two places where a release of tension might have added even more magic.
Lucky Florence where Cristian will be playing this trilogy on the 24th in the library of that aesthete Harold Acton who I am sure will be looking on with admiration.
Playing in a series organised by The Keyboard Charitable Trust I think the founders Noretta Conci-Leech and her husband John Leech can be justly proud as Dr Mather was today.
Simple,Great Beethoven ……..easier said than done!
There is also an amusing and revealing story relating to having a ‘cuppa’ after such a monumental chore as the Beethoven Trilogy.I had been intrigued one day to see the final concert in a complete Beethoven Sonata Cycle completely sold out at one of the major concert halls in London.Intrigued to see that the final trilogy would be performed twice by the same pianist on the same day with only time for a quick cup of tea between performances.I listened to the first performance that was relayed on the radio and was able to follow the score with a glass of wine in hand and an easily accessible on/off button on the radio.I was bowled over by a performance where every detail of the score was played to perfection.Needless to say neither the radio or the wine were even contemplated in an hour of extraordinary music making.A renowned critic who had found a ticket for the second performance was equally bowled over but his reaction was surprising as it was revealing .’Well,Chris,it was a quite extraordinary performance.I remember though hearing Claudio Arrau playing the trilogy in the Festival Hall.At the end of the performance not only he was exhausted but the audience was too.There was no way that he could have had a quick cup of tea and done it all over again!’Make of it what you will but I will never forget Serkin too literally shaking at the end of the Hammerklavier or the Diabelli Variations.It is a spiritual journey that carries on long after the last note has sounded.I remember Mitsuko Uchida too pointing out to an audience member that she did not want to be photographed or recorded because a concert should remain in the memory as a wonderful experience and not just a thing printed on a sterile page.I think all those present yesterday too were exhilarated and exhausted judging by the moments of moving collective silence that we shared together at the end of op.111.
Born to a family of musicians from Bucharest, Romania, Cristian Sandrin made his solo debut at prestigious Romanian Atheneum Hall at the age of 13. After graduating the “Dinu Lipatti” Art College in Bucharest, Cristian moved to London where he studied at the Royal Academy of Music. Having graduated with First Class Honours in 2016, he is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree at the same institution. He is currently a receiver of the Piano Fellowship of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Martin Musical Scholarship Fund 2017/2018, benefiting also from a scholarship of the Imogen Cooper Music Trust. Cristian Sandrin won numerous prizes and awards at international and national competitions. A Second Prize Winner of the Windsor International Piano Competition (2018) and Third Prize Winner of the Sheepdrove Intercollegiate Piano Competition (2018). He had his solo debut recital at the Wigmore Hall in London in September 2017. In Romania, Cristian Sandrin is a regular guest artist of the Filarmonica “Mihail Jora” Bacau, the Sibiu Sibiu Philharmonic, Ramnicu-Valcea National Philharmonic and Bucharest Symphony Orchestra. Other international engagements include performances at “La Fenice” Theatre in Venice, Theatre de la Montjoie, Salla Manuel de Falla in Madrid, Palazzo Ricci in Montepulciano, the Romanian Atheneum in Bucharest, and “Bulgaria Philharmonic Hall” in Sophia. .