Beethoven: Sonata No 21 in C Major, op. 53, “Waldenstein”
Beethoven: Sonata No 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, “Les adieux”
Chopin: Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No 1
Chopin: Ballade No 2 in F Major, Op. 38
Chopin: Nocturne in F Minor, Op. 55, No 1
Chopin: Ballade No 4 in F Minor, Op. 52
Chopin: Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No 2
Chopin: Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60
You know how they say that third time’s a charm? Well, I now have irrefutable evidence that it is total b***: After standing me and his New York fans up twice at Carnegie Hall last year, Oops! Maurizio Pollini did it again this year. So after raving to my friend Nicole about the Italian virtuoso’s extraordinary handling of Chopin and getting us tickets over six months ago, I had to break the news to her than he would not be coming after all, but that much respected French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie would step in for a program that had slightly changed from an all-Chopin feast to a careful selection of Beethoven’s and Chopin’s works. Still shouldn’t be bad…
And it was not. One of my all-time favorite compositions for piano, Beethoven’s irresistible “Waldenstein” is the type of journey that makes you pay attention to its inherent appeal even if your mind is overflowing with other preoccupations. And although Louis Lortie is not a flamboyant musician, he still managed to muster enough sense of drama to do justice to the masterpiece and give us hope for the rest of the concert.
After indulging in Beethoven’s heroic stance, we got a taste of his more sentimental side with “Les adieux”, inspired by the departure and return of his dear friend Archduke Randolph. The sorrow caused by the farewell and absence as well as the joy brought by the reunion came through nicely, if not unforgettably, through Louis Lortie’s dedicated playing.
After Vienna and Beethoven, we moved on to Paris and Chopin for three pairings of Nocturnes with ballades and barcarolle, smartly interweaving highly melodic, free-flowing dreaminess and assertive, occasionally unsure, emotional intensity. Louis Lortie’s winning combination of technical command and soft touch made for a performance that was no doubt satisfying, but nevertheless slightly too subdued for the romantic outpouring it was supposed to convey. This is not to say that brilliant piano playing was not heard, but rather that it was all we got (We have never pretended to be easy to please).
The three encores kept us in Chopin’s world with his Nocturne in D-flat Minor, Op. 27, No 2 and the “Tristesse” and “Torrents” études, all of which turned out to be the undisputed highlight of our concert. Sheer elegance and unbridled passion at long last came out of the piano in full force, leaving us half-wondering where they had been kept all this time, half-rejoicing that they had finally found their way out.