16th. Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival Warsaw 25 March - 6 April 2012

Unfortunately I have little time to attend all the concerts of this festival (my own writing and research takes up so much time) but at least two of the pianists interested me greatly.

25 March

The splendid miltitaristic and certainly festive performance of  Wellington’s Victory, Op. 91 appropriately opened the Festival followed by what must be considered a unique assemblage of talent. The Triple Concerto in C major, Op. 56 was performed with three winners of the recent Tchaikovsky Competion in Moscow on their various instruments.

Daniil Trifonov – piano

Sergey Dogadin – violin
Narek Hakhnazaryan – cello

The chamber music section of the competition meant these three must have already had an immense command of ensemble playing and for me it was remarkable performance of this admittedly light, charming work. Daniil Trifonov listened carefully to the other solists and played in his usual intensely sensitive and musical manner. One of the most gifted young musicians of our time. The orchestra, in fact the whole ensemble, emerged as a seamless blend of conversational musical interchange of parts with the orchestra [Clemens Schuldt conducted the Beethoven Academy Orchestra]. I was particularly struck by the deep musicality of the cellist  Narek Hakhnazaryan whom I feel is a profound musical spirit who has come among us. Sergey Dogadin is also a musician who moves the soul and heart with his warmth and whose technique is beyond compare.

I got the distinct feeling of a potentially great Trio in this asemblage of brilliant talent - along the past lines of the youthful genii Barenboim, Zuckerman and Du Pre. However with the decline in interest in chamber music in concert halls together with Lieder performances (pace the wonderful Wigmore Hall in London and BBC Radio 3's superb week devoted to Schubert) and I suppose under the intense pressure of competition and the marketing pressure of record companies and their agents they will pursue individual careers. I truly hope ensemble playing and solo work can be combined for them. It was a truly wonderful performance. 

Call me prejudiced, unfair and narrow-minded if you will but I find it terribly difficult to listen to modern performances of the Brahms symphonies these days. However brilliant the orchestra and conductor they always fall short of Herbert von Karajan or Wihelm Furtwangler and the Berlin Philharmonic or Vienna Philharmonic. I have lived with these historic recordings all my long life and cannot get the phrasing and climacterics out of my inner ears. I simply can no longer be objective about those compelling performances.

All this being said it was a fine interpretation of the Brahms Symphony No. 4 by Clemens Schuldt and the Beethoven Academy Orchestra. 

28 March

I first heard Russian-German pianist Igor Levit play at the Duszniki Zdroj Festival in 2005. As well as a sonata by Mozart and Prokofiev and the Schumann's Fantasy in C major op.17, he gave a fine performance with a very moving spoken introduction to Schumann's final work, the Geistervariationen WoO24 (1854) or 'Ghost' Variations. Afterwards we spoke with reverence of the two greatest living pianists in his opinion - Grigory Sokolov and Alfred Brendel.

It was with great pleasure then that I anticipated hearing him again in Warsaw playing Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto in E flat major, Op. 73. I had written of him in my literary travel book about Poland A Country in the Moon:

The soulful young  Russian Igor Levit is deeply involved with the music of Schumann. He movingly reminded the audience of the genesis of the ‘Ghost’ Sonata [sic], written when the composer was on the brink of suicide in a mental institution and where after completing the final variation he fell forever silent.

I must have been thinking of Strindberg's chamber play 'The Ghost Sonata' when I erroneously and embarassingly wrote 'Sonata' instead of 'Variations on an Original Theme' which is the correct title of this work. Levit pointed this out to me without realising my discomfiture, being rather a perfectionist in my researches myself.

Levit was quite superb in the Beethoven with a complete grasp of the classical style and grand, almost grandiose even militaristic gestures this concerto demands. He played with great sensitivity, verve and elan - qualities that are required in what is perhaps Beethoven's most imaginative concerto, despite his having lost faith in the 'Emperor' (Napoleon) of the title. Andrey Boreyko, the  conductor of the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker worked together well with the pianist although I always feel these days that not nearly enough time is able to be spent in rehearsal.

Incidentally this is one of the reasons the great Grigory Sokolov does not play concertos in public performance. This perfectionist feels that with the limited time allowed for rehearsal he cannot come to a satisfying joint conception of the work in question with the conductor and orchestra.

As an encore Levit played a superb interpretative account of the  Wagner-Liszt Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. This was one of the finest and most sensitive performances I have heard for many years - marvellous. I believe Levit is presently deeply involved with Liszt's music and will soon give a concert in the wonderful city of Weimar.

A fine young artist of immense potential and of whom we are bound to hear a great deal more in the future.

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