Michael Houstoun
Michael Houstoun - Reviews

Stamina delivers complex sonata

Beethoven Sonatas Programme Three
Municipal Theatre, Napier, Sunday 7 April
Reviewed by Peter Williams, Hawkes Bay Today, 9/4/2013

This third programme of seven was built around the longest sonata in the set, the so-called Hammerklavier No.26 (sic) in B flat, Op.106.  Dedicated to the Grand Duke Rudolph, one of the many generous aristocratic patrons who Beethoven cultivated and on whom he depended for his livelihood, it is one of the most remarkable compositions for the keyboard, a sonata on the grandest scale lasting around 50 minutes in playing time.
Such is its complexity and length, performances are rare, so it was a great privilege to hear it played on this programme, a performance that all in the audience would have keenly appreciated for its extreme technical skill, deep musical understanding, and the physical and mental stamina displayed - a unique and memorable musical experience.  The standing ovation at the end was richly deserved.
The grandeur of the whole of the first movement was immediately communicated in the opening chords and maintained throughout, the following scherzo, with its clarity of rhythmic detail, was exhilarating to hear, the depth and understanding expressed in the massive slow movement and the precision shown in the playing of the myriad notes in the fugal texture of the Finale, all elements that contributed to an astonishing performance.
The three sonatas heard in the first half of the programme were an ideal foil to what was to follow - the sonatas No.5 in C minor, Op.10 No.1 and No.10 in G, Op.14 No.2 frequently performed by advanced students.  This was playing of exceptional clarity and appropriate style, with the Presto Finale of the first sonata notable for the urgency of the tempo and the strong contrasts shown, and the second sonata for the gentle lyricism and lilting rhythms highlighted in the outer movements.
The technical complexity in each of the two movements of the Sonata No.22 in F, Op.54 perhaps explains why this sonata is not frequently performed, but proved no problem here. The minuet style of the first movement, played with such commanding assurance, made it the perfect lead in to the mighty Hammerklavier.
The next concert in the series is in June, with the final three concerts in October. We can hardly wait!

(The Hammerklavier is the 29th sonata in the canon. MH)


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