Obukhov: Création d'or
Liszt: Nuages gris, S. 199
Liszt: Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este
Messiaen: "Le Courlis Cendré" from Catalogue d'oiseaux
Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 5, Op. 53
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier)
Forty-eight hours after a generally satisfying contemporary music concert in Zankel Hall and twenty-four hours after another exasperatingly disruptive nor’easter in New York City, I was back at Carnegie Hall on Thursday evening, in the large Stern Auditorium this time, for a recital by eminent French (Lyonnais, even!) pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard.
In typical Aimard fashion, his program was uncompromisingly ambitious, wildly eclectic yet extremely focused. It included a series of well-known and less well-known ground-breaking short pieces in the first half and Beethoven’s game-changing “Hammerklavier” in the second half. Just when we thought that we were done with spectacular Sturm und Drang for a while, there came Ludwig!
Before the concert started, my fellow Music Ambassador Karen and I were too busy catching up to read the program notes and therefore did not realize that the first half of the concert would be performed without a pause until, well, we did. But it soon became clear that there was nothing even remotely gimmicky about the unusual set-up, which had obviously been carefully thought out by the ever-scrupulous artist. Consequently, the widely different works seamlessly transitioned one into the other to gradually formed a coherent and fascinating whole.
The concert started with Nicolas Obukhov’s “Création d'or” and “Révélation”, whose strongly expressive components ranged from quasi-mystical to fully diabolical, before moving on to Franz Liszt’s mournful “Nuages gris”. The subsequent “Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este” perked things up a bit with the transparent sounds and mystical aura of the graceful Italian Renaissance fountains, before making way to a pointed description of the Eurasian curlew in Olivier Messiaen’s “Le Courlis Cendré”. Alexander Scriabin concluded the eventful journey with his intense one-movement Piano Sonata No. 5, which was as technically complex as musically fulfilling.
Aimard being a musician whose intellectual curiosity, technical skills and emotional commitment seem to know no bounds, there was no wonder that this 50-minute marathon was the kind of awe-inspiring tour de force that leaves the audience as breathless and exhilarated as the performer. And so we were.
But the evening was far from being over as the alleged main attraction, the monumental “Hammerklavier”, was still coming after the well-deserved intermission. Highly unconventional when it first came out, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 has become one of the most popular pillars of the piano repertoire. Big, bold, and devastatingly beautiful at its core, the “Hammerklavier” is a ride like no other, and Aimard readily delivered a clear-minded and eloquent performance of it.
When it came to the encores, Aimard rightfully pointed out that nothing is really possible after the “Hammerklavier”. But that did not stop us from insisting, but our unrelenting pleas eventually earned us a haunting reading of Gyorgy Kurtag’s “...waiting for Susan” from Játékok, Book VI.