I had not realised until today that Beethoven’s vision of paradise was so complete.
A continuous outpouring of whispered confessions that held six thousand people spellbound as Sir Andras Schiff took them on a journey of such beauty and wonder.
His superb sense of proportion and balance turned this percussive instrument that so frustrated Beethoven into the celestial sounds that the composer obviously had in his head .
It was Sir Andras Schiff who miraculously could convey this magic land to us today.He was simply the medium that transmitted the very essence of Beethoven.
We listened as one to a continuous outpouring of music that just flowed so miraculously and generously from his hands.
Beginning with the E major Prelude and Fugue Book 2 by Bach ,the scene had been set ,the air cleansed as the first notes of op 109 just floated in so magically.
This whispered performance allowed for such clarity and sense of orchestral colour.
Has the left hand of op 110 in the first movement ever been so clearly obvious or the inversion of the fugue like a distant star that gradually got closer and closer as like Scriabin it’s burning energy encompassed us so completely.The final scales in op 111 played like magic layers of sound that led to the final disintegration of a universe.
Nothing was forced or imposed as the music unfolded so naturally.In op 109 leggiermente and teneramente appear in Beethovens world with Sir Andras barely touching the keys but with a sense of line that allowed the music to flow like the air we breathe.
Even the Allegro vivace was played with such reticence and control as it gradually disintigrated before our very eyes with such magic sounds of controlled passion and sublime beauty floating always on a wave that was ever present but never invasive.
The Allegro ma non troppo breaking the spell but always within this cocoon that envelopes the sonata from the first to the last note.
There was passion too as the theme enters the realm of the gods but it was the bell like sounds above the ever meandering left hand that was so beautiful. It is interesting to note how faithful Sir Andras is in following Beethoven’s very precise pedal indications.These are streams of sound and not individual notes as the celestial trills lead us back to the simplicity of the theme.
This final time barely whispered as he put the Sonata to bed with the very gentlest of sighs.
Op 110 is the most mellifluous of the 32 Sonatas that traced Beethoven’s life adventure.
Sir Andras barely touching the keys but with his sense of balance and line so ingrained that the music unwound in a series of magical episodes.Pin pointing key notes in the florid passages as in fact Beethoven indicates.Notes that shone like hidden jewels where rays of light had brought them miraculously to life.It was here as I have said that this gentle way of approaching the sonatas allowed so many details to appear without any forcing .The left hand so clear with the right hand syncopation I have never heard so eloquent even from Agosti.His performance and rare live recording from the Ghione theatre in Rome was so similar in many ways to Sir Andras’s approach to this music.
Agosti was forever imploring his students with ‘troppo forte’ and placing his hand above the students hands to stop them producing percussive sounds.
The left hand conversation in the development was quite extraordinary for its eloquence as Beethoven has so clearly notated but is rarely played so convincingly as today.
Wilhelm Kempff in his old age was searching for the perfect legato and with such humility before the great music that he was transmitting.
Radu Lupu too from his debut at the Proms with the Emperor Concerto of truly imperial proportions and a Choral Fantasy that he happily filled in for orchestral members who did not know the score .But in his final years his deceptively Brahmsian bearing could produce the magic sounds that had Curzon exclaiming :Thank God I lived to hear that!
The treacherous trio section of the Allegro molto was played with such ease contrasting with the restrained vehemence of the Allegro.
The opening of the Adagio was almost matter of fact as it dissolved into the wondrous appearance of the Arioso dolente.There was absolute clarity of parts in the fugue but it was the magic at the end that took our breath away.The final majestic chord suddenly being transformed from E flat to D as the Arioso floated on chords that seemed like Beethoven’s own heartbeats.
The final three notes played staccato that contrasted so well with the long held pedal that brings us to the barely audible inversion of the fugue.
Sir Andras had said he only dared play these last two sonatas after his fiftieth year ,the very age when Beethoven could pen such wondrous sounds.
Op.111 was played very deliberately with great clarity.The development was played with such attention to the bass that it allowed the opening motive to appear so clearly in each voice.
The coda dissolved in such a simple way as the Adagio appeared with the same texture as the late quartets.Leading to the tumultuous third variation where for the first time Sir Andras seemed to exert himself as the music gradually dissolved to a murmur.
The simple,jewel like precision of the delicate meanderings on high were pure magic where a mere glimpse of the theme in the left hand was truly sublime.
Trills,streams of pure gold on which Beethoven can soar into the heights that were to await him after his final Missa Solemnis and Diabelli variations.Variations that like Bach’s Art of Fugue are a true testimony to the genius of man.
As Sir Andras so eloquently said: Bach is the Old Testament and Beethoven the New.
It is music with a message of humility and above all humanity.
Beethoven who had struggled all his tormented life had now seen a new and better world.
Just as Bach had written his B minor Mass as a message for posterity of beauty and peace on earth