Robert Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9
Franz Liszt: Piano Sonata in B Minor, S.178
After last month’s memorable recital by globally acclaimed virtuoso Eugene Kissin at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, I was definitely in the mood for more piano music when, lo and behold, about a week later, I got an email from La Sapienza University’s Istituzione Universitaria dei Concerti letting me know that the following Saturday afternoon, less prominent but still highly respected Argentine pianist Nelson Goerner would be giving his first-ever recital in Rome at the much more convenient location of La Sapienza’s Aula Magna Hall at the much more convenient time of 5:30 PM.
So I decided to take advantage of the promising concert to get a welcome break from work and of the wonderful spring-like weather to happily walked there, never mind that I ended up in a corner of the auditorium where the few people there seemed addicted to their smartphone, even if they had presumably bought a ticket and taken time out of their day to come hear some live music. (I’ll give a pass to the older gentleman who was discreetly following the sheet music of the first two pieces on his dimmed screen.)
Not to mention that the music was worth-listening to as well. Although it is not one of Beethoven’s most iconic pieces, his Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major is widely considered a true masterpiece marking the inconspicuous beginning of his late period, when he was at the top of his compositional game. The change was in fact immediately apparent with the first movement, whose nonchalant melody and dreamy mood make it oscillates between serenity and sadness. Things got perkier, quicker, louder, and generally more complex as the work was unfolding and Goerner was dutifully making his way through the exciting minefield.
From Beethoven’s less-known piece we readily jumped to one of Schumann’s all-time favorites with his Carnaval, Op. 9, also known as Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes (Cute Scenes on Four Notes). Powering through 21 fiendishly difficult, enchantingly colorful and cleverly evocative vignettes featuring a bunch of masked revelers at an Italian carnival for 30 minutes is not for the faint-of-heart, but then again, Goerner sounded like he had the will, the chops and the momentum to handle it, and sure enough, he successfully made it to the end unscathed.
After the intermission during which the tuner worked tirelessly on the still heroically standing piano, we all returned for Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor, which he incidentally dedicated to the aforementioned Schumann. Its ground-breaking nature along with its technical challenges kept it from being unanimously popular when it first came out, but hey, what else do you need when you have Wagner’s unconditional approval? Moreover, it is now rightfully recognized as the major work of the piano repertoire that it is, and on Saturday afternoon, Goerner treated it with the respect, commitment and energy it deserved.
Is a piano recital really complete without Chopin? Well, we did not find out last weekend as Goerner responded to our enthusiastic ovation with a beautiful take on the universally beloved Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp Minor. His second, less famous, but no less gratifying, encore was a deliciously high-spirited Arabesques by Andrei Schulz-Evler on themes from Johannes Strauss II' classic Blue Danube Waltz, and concluded the concert with a vigorous splash of virtuosity and fun.