Beethoven: Sonata No 21 in C Major, Op. 53, (“Waldstein”)
Brahms: Four ballads, Op. 10
Schoenberg: Six Little Piano Pieces, Op. 19
Beethoven: Sonata No 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
After reveling in the joys of orchestral music 24 hours before, I was back at Carnegie Hall on Thursday evening for a recital by one of the foremost pianists in this day and age: Leif Ove Andsnes. Checking out the program, the prospect of hearing him play Beethoven and Brahms quickly got me over my slight disappointment at the absence of Chopin (I only have to wait until next season) and my instinctive dismay at the presence of Schoenberg (No matter what it was, it was only going to last seven minutes). It was the night before Friday and my friend Paula was also there to share in the adoration, so I decided not to let anything spoil my enjoyment.
One of the jewels of Beethoven’s middle period, the "Waldstein" is mostly well-known for its unusual structure and form. No theoretical musical knowledge is necessary, however, to appreciate the richness and overall harmony of the whole piece. And those were all the more appreciated through the winning combination of energy and sensitivity in Leif Ove Andsnes’ unfussy approach.
Moving on to Brahms after Beethoven was both logical and interesting. It also made Brahms’ much celebrated four little ballads sound especially understated after Beethoven’s spacious "Waldstein". Understated does not mean irrelevant though, and their youthful, lyrical quality was discreetly highlighted through the genuinely insightful playing.
Schoenberg went down fast and relatively easy. Even if it did not provide the same elevated pleasures of the previous works, those six piano pieces were basically harmless.
Back to Beethoven 20 years after the "Waldstein", the Sonata No 32 distinguishes itself by being the last one he ever wrote. Leif Ove Andsnes played the first stormy movement with controlled authority before focusing on the elegant finesse of the mystical second one. And that was it, and that was enough. Beethoven was right: Who needs a third movement after those?
After all was magnificently said and done, he came back to treat his clearly elated audience to three encores that only kept on getting better: Kurtag’s "Scraps of a Colinda Melody – Faintly Recollected" from Jatekok, Chopin’s Waltz in A-flat Major and Schumann’s Romance in F-sharp Major. I am already counting the days to February 15, 2012.