jueves, septiembre 15, 2016

Steuerman and Alegre: pianistic maturity and youthful exuberance

             One essential talent if you manage a concert institution is to show quick reflexes in case of an unexpected crisis. The Mozarteum Argentino has always shown that capacity, and the sudden intoxication of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes , who had arrived to our city for two recitals, gave them just one day to find a suitable replacement; aided by luck and the good disposition of the artist, we had the presence of Brazilian pianist Jean Louis Steuerman, who not only saved the day but gave a quality programme with results that were quite good. The venue was, as usual, the Colón.

            On the one hand I regretted the absence of Andsnes, a distinguished artist who had visited us only once as soloist with the BBC Orchestra, and who promised several pieces of Sibelius, rarely heard here and beautiful; I do hope that he will be back in another season. On the other hand, Steuerman (whose names and surname make me think of an Alsatian rather than a Brazilian) is an artist of important trajectory, and in his sixties his style and technique are in full maturity. Years ago he played with our Philharmonic Rachmaninov´s First Concerto.

            His programme was made up of four masterpìeces of contrasting aesthetics. He started with Johann Sebastian Bach´s First Partita: he has been awarded the Diapason d´Or for his recording of the Six Partitas, and has recently recorded the Goldberg Variations, so he is recognised as an authoritative voice in Bach for piano. Mind you, there will always be two controversies: whether it should be played on the piano, as the originals are for harpsichord; and if they are, should players imitate the harpsichord.

            On the evidence of what we heard, Steuerman believes in the second variant; three examples: the limpid articulation without pedal; some chords played as arpeggios, as harpsichordists do to make the sound less dry; and the ornamentation of repeats, for in the Baroque, both in opera and instrumental music, the first time you play the music straight, but the second is ornamented to avoid monotony. Steuerman played with taste and knowledge, avoiding the full decibels of the modern piano.

            Then, the challenge of Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 30, one of the famous last three where the composer explores new roads constantly. Although I wasn´t quite convinced in the First movement, where the speed contrasts weren´t as natural as they can be and the light cascades of sound should have been more poetic, the Prestissimo was firmly met, and the theme with variations of the last movement was impeccable.

            The Six little pieces for piano, Op.19, by Arnold Schönberg, are little jewels of atonal Expressionism of great historic importance, and Steuerman proved to be in complete empathy with the language (he has recorded the complete Schönberg piano scores). Curiously, Edward Steuermann (two "ns") studied composition with Schönberg and premièred all the composer´s piano works.

            And then, Chopin´s great Third Sonata, tackled by Steuerman with  a sense of form often distorted by colleagues that opt for ultra-Romantic interpretations: he gave us the music as written, with no exaggeration. The First movement had all the necessary emphasis of its varied moods, the Scherzo was airy and light, and if the Largo felt a bit monotonous, it always does: there´s too much repetition; the breathless Finale is a tour de force and in it Steuerman showed his controlled virtuosity.

            More Chopin in the encores: a charming Mazurka, and a "Minute Waltz" where he took the nickname too literally; it benefits by a less hectic tempo.

            Two weeks ago the 2016 cycle of Chopiniana, the piano institution led by Martha Noguera, started its season at the Palacio Paz (Círculo Militar) with a recital by Luis Ascot which unfortunately collided with the Mahler Third Symphony by Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, but the second concert had no such problem and I was there. The Palacio is undergoing some changes and the first floor hall that was used for the concerts is now a restaurant, so we were back (as some years ago) at the lavish oval hall in the ground floor: attractive visually with its marbles and fine decoration, typical of the early Twentieth-Century, but too resonant.

            Tomás Alegre is only 24 and has been studying with Nelson Goerner at Geneva with a scholarship. His programme was short but difficult: Beethoven´s Sonata Nº 21, "Waldstein", and Rachmaninov´s Second Sonata, presumably in its revised version of 1931. Nº 21 may be the most energetic of Beethoven´s sonatas with a first movement that is relentless in its brilliance and intensity; after the pause of the slow movement, the third starts with serene feeling but soon piles up tremendous problems of coordination, magnified in the long Prestissimo coda. I believe that there is merit in virtuosity, and Alegre certainly has privileged fingers; however, he sometimes relaxed the basic pulse and the marked slowing downs ("ritenuti") were much slower than necessary and with silences that were too long.

            Alegre was in his element in Rachmaninov´s powerhouse of a sonata, with its ample rhetorics; of course the composer was also the best Russian pianist and he wrote it for himself. The young Argentine attacked it fearlessly with total command, showing the solidity of his training.

            The encores were quite good: the splendid Brahms Intermezzo Op.118 Nº1 and a typical Piazzolla in skillful piano transcription.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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