Key Pianists presents Peter Takács :The Beethoven Experience—Early Beethoven in Review

Key Pianists presents Peter Takács :The Beethoven Experience—Early Beethoven in Review

Key Pianists presents Peter Takács:The Beethoven Experience—Early Beethoven
Peter Takács, piano
Guest artists: Boris Allakhverdyan, Clarinet; Carter Brey, Cello
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 18, 2015

I was irreverently suggesting prior to this concert that at this point Beethoven needs no publicity. His devoted performers and listeners do, however, need repeated exposure to these testaments of creativity, which continue to speak and sing no matter how well we think we know them. One of the pleasures of hearing such iconic material is that one can focus in much more detailed fashion on the performance and performer(s).

Beethoven is in extremely fine hands with the esteemed Romanian-born pianist, Peter Takács. His playing overall was full of satisfying risk-taking. He did what is all too rare nowadays: he gave the sensation that he was creating the music “on the spot.” The music breathed where it needed to breathe, bombast was appropriately bombastic, lyrical lines sang, and the whole demonstrated passionate commitment. His ability to change emotional character as quickly as the musical figures changed made the program spring to vivid life.

The very first solo piano sonata given an opus number (Op. 2, No. 1 in F minor) made a fitting opening to this concert (and the first of a three-part series). Mr. Takács’ tone was miraculously transparent on the nine-foot modern Steinway, even at times evoking the more slender tones of instruments Beethoven may have known (and which he always found insufficient). The Adagio, that first of Beethoven’s essays in “humanitäts-Melodie,” was taken a tad faster than I am used to, but to great effect. Its last two chords were magical, not perfunctory.

Mr. Takács was then joined by Boris Allakhverdyan and Carter Brey for the diverting Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 11. I take issue with only one of Mr. Takács good program notes here, for he states that B-flat major was a key used by Beethoven to signify light-heartedness. I don’t think the “Archduke” trio or the “Hammerklavier” sonata would be mistaken for light-hearted, but no matter. The afternoon became truly thrilling with this performance. Mr. Allakhverdyan and Mr. Brey are well-known to New Yorkers through their fine contributions to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic respectively. They played as though they had been a fully formed ensemble for years, teasing out every nugget of chamber music gold, with easeful runs and great good humor, particularly in the rousing Finale, based on a popular comic-opera tune that truly is the anthem of every starving artist “Before I work, I must have something to eat.” Beethoven must surely have had a hearty laugh about the reference. mr. Takács enjoyed the impish turn to G Major near the end, a remote key here, and you could see the playful quality on his face.

After intermission, Mr. Takács favored the audience with the two “sides” of C, minor and major, represented respectively by the famous “Pathétique” sonata Op. 13 and then the final sonata of Op. 2: No. 3. In the Adagio of Op. 13, there was an old-fashioned desynchronization of the hands, which I did not find disturbing for once. This may actually have a lot more to do with a “historically informed” performance practice that we would rather gloss over in our “intellectual” age. Don’t rush out to do this, everyone: let’s just allow Mr. Takács to do it. He also found meltingly sentimental colors in this same movement, where many pianists just “pass over” it. Mr. Takács actually improvised a cadenza in the last movement’s rondo, before the reappearance of the theme, rather than just “sit there” on the fermata. Bravo!

The C major sonata, more like a concerto without orchestra, was brilliant and full of bold contrasts, especially in the unusually “big” slow movement. He arpeggiated large left-hand chords unapologetically, especially in the development section, a smart solution to the problem every pianist faces about too-massive sonority. His passagework and trills in the finale were marvelous and clear. It seems churlish even to mention passagework when one has been given such a gift.

There is an internet meme circulating for some time now about something Beethoven supposedly said to his student Czerny: “Anyone can play a wrong note sometimes, but to play without passion is inexcusable.” Beethoven would have been proud of this performance.