Sunday, November 22, 2009

NSO - McMillan, Lalo & Mendelssohn - 11/22/09

Conductor: Hugh Wolff
MacMillan: I (A Meditation on Iona) for Strings and Percussion
Lalo: Symphonie Espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21 - Joshua Bell
Mendelssohn: Symphony No 3 in A Minor, Op. 56, "Scottish"

This afternoon was the last concert of my immensely enjoyable four-day, final stretch before the holiday season, four drastically different performances expertly driven by an international array of exceptionnally talented gentlemen: the French ( Jean-Louis Thibaudet), the Swedish (Leif Ove Andnes), the Italian (Riccardo Muti), and now last, but by no means least, the American: Joshua Bell. It's like Christmas before Thanksgiving! Today, the National Symphony Orchestra's program featured an unreservedly sunny piece inspired by Spain book-ended by two ostensibly sterner works reflecting the much greyer skies of Scotland, the first one being fairly recent and unknown to me, the third one Mendelssohn's inexplicably little performed "Scottish" symphony. Lalo's delightful Symphonie Espagnole is also a rarity in concert halls, which is another mystery I've never been able to explain either since its attractive melodies are perfectly accessible to dedicated music lovers and less knowledgeable neophytes alike. Go figure. The festivities were expected to unfold under the baton of Hugh Wolff, a former associate conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra under Rostropovich before he launched into a prestigious international career, and whom we were happy to welcome back on the Kennedy Center concert hall podium.

Ringing bells unmistakably invoking deep-rooted Catholicism opened the concert with their clear sounds before giving way to a powerfully atmospheric tone poem inspired by the same rugged landscape described in Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave". In I (A Meditation on Iona) the profound seriousness of the music, whether contemplative or fragmented, strongly emphasized the historical and religious backgrounds of the island of Iona, but was still most effective at earnestly conveying its stark beauty.
After McMillan's bleak images, Lalo's luminous Symphony Espagnole, which is in fact more of a violin concerto than anything else, quickly cheered everybody up with its wide range of Spanish rhythmical and harmonic elements, among which notably stood out leisurely languorous passages and spontaneously sparkling notes. Originally composed for violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, it openly radiated flamenco-infused lightness and sensuality while keeping the audience constantly engaged with its whimsical intricacies, and Joshua Bell seemed to have as much fun playing it as we did listening to it, easily succeeding in making us completely forget the unbelievably gorgeous fall afternoon we were missing outside.
The prevailing upbeat mood got drastically tempered after the intermission when we went back to Scotland courtesy of Mendelssohn's third symphony. But what a memorable trip it was! Written to be played without a pause, the composition is a seamless journey into the brooding Romantic emotions felt by Mendelssohn when confronted with Scotland's austere scenery, climate and history, which even the more light-hearted second movement cannot fully dissipate. Today, the richly dark melodies came beautifully alive thanks to a NSO obviously engrossed by the task at hand and conducted by a Hugh Wolff who clearly remained on top of things. Best of all, a fading sun was still bathing the late afternoon with a golden glow when we eventually came out, slowly reentering reality.

WPAS - The NY Philharmonic - Listz, Elgar & Prokofiev - 11/21/09

Conductor: Riccardo Muti
Liszt: Les Préludes, Symphonic Poem No 3, after Lamartine
Elgar: In the South (Alassio), Concert-overture for Orchestra, Op. 50
Prokofiev: Selections from Romeo and Juliet

Finally! After almost two decades without bothering with Washington, superstar maestro Muti found the time to bring his aristocratic demeanor and Italian charisma to our nation's capital to conduct the prestigious New York Philharmonic Orchestra with whom he's had a long and much involved relationship, but one which he has never made "official" despite a lot of ardent and repeated courting. The oldest orchestra in the US and one of the oldest ones in the world, the NY Philharmonic is as well-known at home as abroad, and was first presented by the Washington Performance Arts Society 60 years ago. Although I am not familiar with either Liszt's Les préludes or Elgar's In the South, I know enough about the composers' oeuvres to feel confident in their capacity to please. I was lucky enough to hear some excerpts of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet just a few weeks ago in Berlin with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but one can never hear too much Prokofiev, so bring it on.

Probably the most popular among Liszt's symphonic poems, Les préludes had a tortuous genesis. The actual connection between the score and Lamartine's verse has often been seen as vague at best, but what has been clearly established is that the sequence of musical moods had originally been inspired by Joseph Autrans' poems regrouped under The Four Elements (Stars, Waves, Earth and Wind). Accordingly, yesterday afternoon we got to experience plenty of nuanced lyricism, some stormy weather and a life-affirming ending, all under the fully engaged control of Riccardo Muti, who firmly conducted an exceptionally tight orchestra.
Next, we moved to the musings of an Englishman in Italy with Elgar and his Edwardian take on the bucolic village of Andora. The result was a lively tone poem with an exuberant opening before grandly evoking ancient Rome and prettily exuding the joys of nature. Although the radiant viola solo was an unforgettable trip in itself (Who knew such an inconspicuous instrument could make such incredible sounds?), the whole orchestra beautifully delivered a truly brilliant account of the composer's striking vision of that part of Italy. As a loudly enthusiastic audience member kept on repeating to himself and everybody around him, the first part of the program was no less than "fabulous!"
Originally deemed "undanceable" by the dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet, Prokofiev's score for the ballet of Romeo and Juliet has long become a classic thanks to its Romantic-to-the-core musical interpretation of the famous tragedy. Yesterday, one only had to listen to "Montagues and Capulets" or "Masks" to quickly fall under the spell of their infectious melodic lines, but the more emotionally dramatic accounts, such as Romeo and Juliet's passionate love or Tybalt's violent death, received a masterful treatment as well. Beautiful music was made by our visitors on this late Saturday afternoon, and we can only hope to see them again soon, and together.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

WPAS - Leif Ove Andsnes & Robin Rhode - Mussorgsky, Schumann, Larcher - 11/20/09

Mussorgsky: Memories of Childhood - "Nurse and I" & "First punishment" (Nurse shuts me in a dark room)
Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15
Larcher: What becomes
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

As timing would have it, I've been listening to a lot of piano playing these days. After Lang Lang a week before and Jean-Yves Thibaudet one day before, last night I was at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center for another critic and audience favorite in the person of Leif Ove Andsnes. And to spice things up, this was not going to be just another recital, but rather a multi-media experience titled Pictures Reframed and featuring Mussorgsky's famous masterpiece Pictures at an Exhibition along with a couple of other works. His collaborator is Berlin-based, South African native Robin Rhode, a visual artist well-known for his eagerness to work in multiple, occasionally cross-pollinating, artistic realms. All this sounded pretty intriguing, and I figured that even if the video component did not work for me, I'd still have Leif Ove and his reliably superb command of his instrument.

The concert opened with two very different childhood memories of Mussorgsky meticulously rendered by the piano: an affectionate melody while reminiscing of his beloved nurse, a harsher piece depicting the sheer terror he felt when she locked him in a closet as a punishment.
Schumann's ever-popular Kinderszenen ("Scenes from Childhood") are 13 short pieces, each of them pointedly conveying an emotional state to which children and adults alike can easily relate. Here again, Leif Ove Andnes effortless navigated the different moods with nuance and delicacy.
After two thoroughly classical works, Thomas Larcher's decidedly modern What becomes stood out even more with its odd rhythms and string plucking on a piano whose sounds had been altered by various objects placed on it. Some animations created by Robin Rhode accompanied the music and added to the sense of ever-changing flow.
Lastly, the much anticipated opening notes of the first Promenade resonated, finally taking us on the familiar journey to leisurely peruse the Pictures at an Exhibition. Written by Modest Mussorgsky upon visiting the exhibition he had helped organized as a tribute to his deceased friend, the painter Viktor Hartmann, it still is his most popular work. The musical performance was of course as polish as could be in its force, depth and subtlety, and I would have been more than happy to settle for just that. As for the images and videos that were projected over the piano, I found some of them interestingly appropriate, others endlessly puzzling, and the whole experience, all things considered, only mildly engaging. The score being strongly evocative itself, credit has to be given to Robin Rhode for not just imaging the various movements' titles, but doing his own thing. The result turned out to be more unsettling, but more stimulating as well, even if, ultimately, the pianist's beautifully heartfelt interpretation of the wildly inventive composition clearly and decisively trumped up the visual accompaniment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

BSO - Daugherty, Listz & Berlioz - 11/19/09

Conductor: Marin Alsop
Daugherty: "Red Cap Tango" from Metropolis Symphony
Liszt: Totentanz - Jean-Yves Thibaudet
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique, Op. 14

Whoever thinks that classical music is a high-brow hobby for some stuck-up elite was obviously not at Strathmore last night where the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its audience had a field day with their “Demons, Drama and Dance” program, which included three works featuring the famous medieval funeral hymn “Dies Irae”. Hearing my fellow Lyonnais Jean-Yves Thibaudet is always a treat, and even though I had heard him tackle Liszt’s Totentanz a mere six months ago with the National Symphony Orchestra, there was no way I was going to miss a repeat performance of one of my favorite musical pieces by one of my favorite pianists. Berlioz’s ground-breaking Symphonie Fantastique has proven time and time again that its title is no unfulfilled promise but an accurate description of its core quality, so I went all the way to Strathmore full of anticipation on an appropriately miserable, rainy November evening.

Daugherty's "Red Cape Tango" was an eclectic mix of musical styles unified by the "Dies Irae". While I found all those darn recurring castanets quite grating after a short while, some of those variations were unusual and pleasant, if not unforgettable.
Probably one of the most thrilling musical rides I’ve ever been on, Totentanz ("Dance of Death”) was my first introduction to Franz Liszt and hooked me up right away with the ferocious virtuosity and the devilish fun it so brashly exudes. After a rhythmically suspenseful opening, the piano unleashes freely rushing flows of daring stylistic innovations totally befitting the Hungarian composer who was, let's not forget, the most accomplished pianist of his time, if not all times. Even in the quieter moments, diabolical intensity menacingly hangs in the air and never gives the listener a full break from ghoulish evocations of marching corpses and dancing skeletons. Apparently more than eager to jump right in, last night Jean-Yves Thibaudet stylishly mixed Catholicism, Romanticism and macabre in a wickedly delirious recipe, and the resulting dish was hot, hot, hot.
But no matter how satisfying Totentanz was, the high point of the evening had to be the Symphonie Fantastique, which also has its own Dies Irae-driven passage during the orgiastic witches' sabbath. One of the most important and highly regarded works of the early Romantic period, Berlioz's An episode in the life of an artist is still widely performed all over the world. The magnificent score and the story it accompanies are in fact based on the composer's originally unrequited love for the English actress Harriet Smithson and each movement has a descriptive title and clear purpose. As the plot and the music unfold, his beloved reappears sporadically as the idée fixe, driving him to despair and eventually to a bad opium-infused trip that will not end up well. But all was well indeed for the audience yesterday as Marin Alsop assuredly led the orchestra into Berlioz's sumptuous fantasy. The "Passions" were dreamily melodic, the "Ball" both festive and contemplative, the "Scene in the field" harmoniously impressionist, the "March to the Scaffold" grandly alarming and the "Dream of a Witch's Sabbath" frightfully grotesque. More than worth metro's uncooperative schedule and the thunderstorm pouring on me on my way home.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

NSO - Glinka, Beethoven, Weber and Prokofiev - 11/13/09

Conductor: Andrew Litton
Glinka: Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 1 in C Major, Op. 15 - Lang Lang
Weber: Overture to Euryanthe, Op. 81
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No 3 in C Major, Op. 26 - Lang Lang

Friday the 13th is supposed to be, for better or worse, a special day, and we definitely got a mixed bag of luck yesterday with a rain that kept on obstinately falling for the third day in a row, but also "An Evening with Lang Lang" programmed by the National Symphony Orchestra and featuring the young piano virtuoso whose claims to world-wide fame include amazing technical skills, an incredible personal story and brazen, crowd-pleasing performances. Yesterday, he was in town for not just one but two very different concertos, respectively composed by a young Beethoven and a mature Prokofiev. Not surprisingly the sold-out audience definitely looked more eclectic than usual and was apparently as eager to have a look at the still hot musical phenomenon as to actually listen to whatever music he was going to play. But a full auditorium is always a welcome sight, regardless of the motivation, and then it is on with the show.

The overture to Russla and Ludmilla opened the festivities with full-blown exuberance, totally in tune with the fairy tale that inspired Glinka's popular opera.
The general mood remained lifted but toned down with Beethoven's first published piano concerto (although not the first he ever wrote), which Lang Lang played with an enchanting grace that I frankly did not expect from him. The composer and pianist not being exactly known for their, ahem, light touch, it was a wonderful surprise to hear the elegant intricacies of the first movement, the shimmering delicacy of the second one, and the enthusiastic brio of the rondo-finale, all gently emphasized by a mostly tasteful, if sporadically borderline nonchalant, treatment. Andrew Litton was holding back the orchestra just enough to let the piano daintily express itself and acquaint us with a brand new concept: Lang Lang the sensitive artist. Misplaced clapping from an obviously uncertain but deeply appreciative audience added a dash of endearing spontaneity to the proceedings, at least once you got past the instinctive annoyed feelings.
Weber's overture to Euryanthe opened the second half with a lot of lyricism from a lot of violins for an unabashedly melodic prologue. Not very subtle, but it sure got our blood pumping.
Prokofiev's relentlessly tricky third piano concerto was the perfect opportunity to reconnect with an altogether familiar image: Lang Lang the technical wizard. His fingers flying all over the keyboard with mercurial precision, he expertly negotiated the thankless minefield without losing his newly-found lightness. The score was unusual, yet well-balanced: even if moments of conventional lyricism showed a more content side of the composer, his enfant terrible persona was never far off and frequently resurfaced with exacting challenges of speed and dexterity for the pianist. The last movement was in fact so bursting with virtuosic sparks that I can't even remember getting up to join the fast-rising, unanimous and long-lasting standing ovation that more than made up for the earlier, unexpectedly aborted one.
Even better, it earned us a lovely encore, which sent us fully elated into another dark and wet night.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

NGA - Yakov Kasman - Bach, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Schumann & Stravinsky - 11/08/09

Bach: "Largo" from Sonata for Organ in C Major, BWV 529
Tchaikovsky: From The Seasons, Op. 37 - February (Carnival), May (Starlit Nights) & August (Harvest)
Prokofiev: Sonata No 2 in D Minor, Op. 14
Schumann: Humoreske, Op. 20
Stravinsky: Trois mouvements de Petrouchka - Danse Russe, Chez Petrouchka & La semaine grasse

To conclude this Eastern European-flavored week, the National Gallery of Art presented Russian native pianist Yakov Kasman in a Russian-centric recital featuring Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky alongside Bach and Schumann. It was not as crowded to the brims as last week for Viennese Till Fellner, but the line was still impressive enough to prove the popularity of the soloist and the program. Besides, how best to end a incredibly warm and sunny fall weekend than with a piano recital in a lush garden?

The first work had quite an unusual background as Bach took the three instruments normally associated with a Baroque trio sonata and had the organ handle them all. The movement performed for us was the “Largo” from Bach’s Sonata for Organ in C Major, BWV 529, which had been transcribed into a piano solo piece by Russian piano virtuoso and composer Samuel Feinberg, one of the most knowledgeable interpreters of Bach. It was very engaging self-contained prologue and asserted Yakov Kasman’s seemingly effortless mastery of his instrument.
Next in line was Tchaikovsky with three of the 12 short pieces he had written for each month of the year. I had never heard of them before, but quickly fell under the spell of the exuberant festivities of Mardi Gras in February, nature's irresistible rebirth in May and the endless summer fun in August. These three parts of a whole were spiritedly contrasted from one another while still being united in their melodic power.
After easy-on-the-ears Tchaikovksy it was time for Prokofiev's much more personal style, which was vividly displayed in a wild ride happily mixing traditionalism and modernism. This stimulating cocktail was expertly stirred by Yasman who smartly negotiated all the twists and turns of the whole work.
Referring to temperament and not light-heartedness, Schumann's Humoreske smartly evoked a full range of various moods that were changing rapidly and seamlessly. This festival of human emotions was totally engaging and a lot of fun too.
Based on his Petrouchka ballet score, Stravinsky's three transcriptions for the piano were in no means just cute little asides. They were independent works designed to stand on their own, and Kasman made sure that they brilliantly did just that, therefore ending this enchanting concert with virtuosic sparks.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Szymanowski Quartet - Haydn, Szymanowski & Mendelssohn - 11/06/09

Haydn: String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No 3, "Emperor"
Szymanowski: String Quartet No 2, Op. 56
Mendelssohn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44, No 1

After the Czechs, then came the Poles! On my second trip to the Library of Congress this week, I was getting ready to hear another much praised string quartet from Eastern Europe and very much looking forward to an eclectic program that included classical, contemporary and romantic music. It was Friday evening, on the eve of what presented itself as a finally kind of relaxing weekend, so life was good, and about to get better.

First performed on the actual birthday of Emperor Franz II on February 12, 1797 in all the theaters in Vienna and the provinces, Haydn's song "Gott erhalte Franz der Kaiser" soon became the very popular unofficial first national anthem of Austria. After the Austrians abandoned it (along with the monarchy) it became the tune of the official national anthem of Germany. Easy come, easy go. The composer was actually so fond of the melody that he used it later for one of his most remarkable string quartets, and the rest has been chamber music history. Listening to it played by a terrifically tight and talented ensemble, it was easy to detect its attractive qualities while its sunny, elegant intricacies were filling up the packed auditorium.
After such a feast of refined lilting, Szymanowski's dissonant, occasionally harsh outbursts sounded even more so. Although it had some beautifully lyrical lines for the violins, his string quartet also contained sudden moments of uneasiness that kept on jolting the audience at the most unexpected turns. A little bit of sweet Romanticism here and more robust folksiness there yielded an unusual but stimulating composition, which the musicians handled with much poise and gusto.
You know you can always count on Mendelssohn to freely dispense galores of cheerful melodies and all-around happiness. After the whole array of sounds we had just been through, his Opus 44, which has sometimes been deemed inferior to his previous works, rose shiny and bright, putting everybody in a buoyant mood just in time for the weekend. Conclusion: Don't listen to the naysayers. Opus 44 is about as luminous and pleasurable as anything the man wrote (and that is saying something).

But before we left, our enthusiastic standing ovation earned us an outstanding reward in the form of a gorgeous "Melody" by prolific and eclectic Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk. All those strings made beautiful music together, and we can only hope for another opportunity to hear them again very soon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NSO - Brahms & Prokofiev - 11/05/09

Conductor: Alexander Vedernikov
Brahms: C0ncerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 77 - Vadim Repin
Prokofiev: Symphony No 5 in B-Flat Major, Op. 100

It seems like Brahms' commanding violin concerto is as popular today as it has ever been, and 10 days after hearing it in Berlin courtesy of Joshua Bell, Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic, I was no less eager to hear the Russian duo of Vadim Repin and Alexander Vedernikov take a stab at it with the National Symphony Orchestra on my first foray back in the Kennedy Center concert hall since my return. Brahms and Prokofiev seem to be a fashionable couple these days too, because the Russian composer whose Romeo and Juliet ballet score were the very last notes I heard in the Konzerthaus was on the NSO bill as well with his grand Symphony No 5. Not to mention that last season the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra presented the same Brahms' violin concerto with the same Vadim Repin right before... Prokofiev's 5th Symphony. The more programs change...

As one of the most daunting challenges in the répertoire, Brahms' violin concerto demands a wide range of skills from the soloist taking it on. Vadim Repin has never been lacking in technical skills or nuanced sensitivity, and those assets for sure give him a major advantage when tackling such a mighty Romantic composition. But yesterday while he definitely demonstrated sharp precision and exquisite finesse, I did not think that he gave the big sweeping passages the élan they needed to decisively rise and swell and carry us all away. Not being needlessly showy is of course a laudable decision, however, fire and intensity are also indispensable to breathe full life into a work begging for it, and there was just not enough of them last night to make this attractively refined performance a truly exciting one. I also have to say that after having experienced live music in many different venues lately, I suspect that the notorious acoustics of the Kennedy Center concert hall probably contributed in making the music occasionally sound lackluster despite the obvious commitment of everybody onstage. So that may also have had to do with the general feeling of having just witnessed a perfectly honorable achievement, yes, but not an all-around dazzling feat.
Things notably perked up with Prokofiev's richly emotional score which he dedicated to the spirit of Man. His Symphony No 5 was composed within a single month in 1944, and the long-coming fulfillment he was then experiencing personally and professionally certainly had a large influence on his more direct style that expertly combines darkness and tension with exuberance and happiness. The unabashedly joyous Finale aims at reiterating his faith in the human race, and in the right hands brilliantly concludes a thoroughly exceptional work. Accordingly, Alexander Vedernikov let the orchestra lose and even seemed to encourage them to splash around to their hearts' content, allowing for a rambunctious but highly enjoyable performance. Prokofiev would have been pleased.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Zemlinsky Quartet - Mozart, Kalabis & Zemlinsky - 11/03/09

Mozart: String Quartet in C Major, K. 465, "Dissonance"
Kalabis: String Quartet No 7, Op. 76
Zemlinsky: String Quartet No 1 in A Major, Op. 4

Yesterday evening I finally found my way back to the Library of Congress concert series for the first time since last June. While I fully enjoy the sweeping nature of symphonic performances, I have to say that some my most thrilling highs have happened in the Coolidge Auditorium, where quite often chamber music ensembles have forever broadened and deepened my appreciation for that more intimate but so engaging form of musical entertainment. A lot of them were totally unknown to me at the time and turned out to be true revelations, so I naturally keep going back for more. As a well-timed nod to my still vividly remembered four days in Prague, yesterday's program featured a young Czech quartet whose ever-growing trajectory was probably the reason why they've changed their name from the Penguin Quartet to the more dignified Zemlinsky Quartet.

The concert started off with a spirited quartet by Mozart, and I have to say that it was impossible for my non theoretically trained ears to find the justification for its surprising nickname: "Dissonance". A detailed technical explanation was provided in the program, of course, but what the heck. I fully enjoyed the progression of the music from original dark undertones to eventual soaring exuberance and as far as I'm concerned, the experts can debate all they want.
Then we somewhat predictably moved on to a Czech composer, the prolific and almost contemporary Viktor Kalabis. Just one movement, the work featured strong melodic currents and flew by in a flash.
I'm assuming that a little something by their namesake was in order, and we did get a prettily melodic piece that very nicely rounded up the evening.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Till Fellner - All-Beethoven - 11/01/09

Beethoven: Sonata No 25 in G Major, Op. 79
Beethoven: Sonata No 24 in F Sharp Major, Op. 78
Beethoven: Sonata No 15 in D Major, Op. 28 ("Pastoral")

Beethoven: Sonata No 27 in E Minor, Op. 90
Beethoven: Sonata No 4 in E-Flat Major, Op. 7

It is incredibly hard to believe that two weeks have already past since I heard Till Fellner's enchanting Beethoven recital in Vienna, almost as hard to believe that I've just come back from the same Beethoven program performed by the same Till Fellner, not looking one hour older than a fortnight ago, at the National Gallery of Art. Needless to say I was very surprised to hear that he was going to give a concert in such a small venue more generally associated with up-and-coming or lesser known musicians, but needless to say very happy too. Planning to get there waaaaaaayyyyyyy ahead of time turned out to be particularly good thinking because even with showing up over an hour before the starting time, the line was already exceptionally long and the ushers were quietly fretting about getting everybody in, which, to their credit, they did, even if the late-comers had to sit in the hall.

The atrium of the National Gallery of Art may be a really lovely place to relax, read, have a conversation or muse about all the priceless artworks around the corner, but the fact of the matter is it is not the most conducive space to hear a classical music concert. Tall, luxuriant plants and an imposing fountain supporting two lovely putti frolicking with a goose impede normal seating, and the music tends to lose some of itself in the wide openness, but never mind. The magic still fully operated and we got to enjoy a remarkably nuanced performance of Beethoven's sonatas from his early and middle periods. As usual, the pianist was fully focused and beautifully expressed the many qualities of the various pieces with clarity, poetry and aplomb. A nostalgic thought of my wonderful stay in Vienna naturally entered my mind... All that was missing was a hot chocolate and a pastry (Sigh).