Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

27.2.07

Inexplicable Disappointment at Haefliger Recital

Andreas HaefligerAndreas Haefliger gave a concert on very short notice at the new Swiss Residence Concert Series (this was only the sixth such concert at the newly designed gloriously angular Swiss Ambassador’s residence), which was not only kind of Mr. Haefliger to do, but also a fine opportunity to hear Switzerland’s foremost pianist after having missed Austria’s, earlier in the week. Save for the thoughtful and rather lavish reception after the concert (especially considering the highly subsidized, puny $8 a ticket for these concerts), the recital was much less than it promised to be, though.


There are varying opinions as to what went wrong (admittedly, most in the audience didn’t think anything was wrong and were happily delighted, all the same) – and I am myself not sure where to assign primary blame for the outcome, the bad acoustic, the piano, or the way both were taken into too little consideration by Mr. Haefliger. The easiest answer is: All of the above. At any rate, the result was something less than a professional grade recital.

available at Amazon
W.A.Mozart, Piano Sonatas,
Andreas Haefliger
Avie



available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Impromptus opp.90 & 142,
Andreas Haefliger
Sony



available at Amazon
S.Gubaidulina, Solo Piano Works,
Andreas Haefliger
Sony

Playing two Beethoven sonatas in context with Schubert’s great B-flat Major, D960, he chose sonatas nos. 15 (op.28, “Pastorale” – actually nameless in German-speaking countries) and 23 (op.57, “Appassionata”). From the opening Allegro of op.28, the notes were washed into another, lacked clarity, and enunciation. While the Steinway baby-grand looks appropriate in size for the rather intimate setting in the foyer of the residence, it still sounded one size too big in an acoustic that is extremely hard to come to terms with. Although it isn’t an echo-chamber like the National Gallery’s East Garden Court, it creates reverb above a certain decibel level. Everything above a p was given a meaty note, everything at or above f a booming ring and occasional buzzing rattle. (Mr. Haefliger, perhaps being kind, suggested that the piano had merely not been played enough but was otherwise fine. In that case they should roll it into a sound-proof room and make some piano student happy by offering free use in return for daily abuse.) Intense off-key humming was made more notable by the setting but did not terribly distract from an energetic, brisk, and bold Andante, fleet Scherzo, and bubbly, driven Rondo. The problems of sound persisted, but in retrospect this was the good part of the recital.

Sympathetic (but undesired) afternotes and vibrations hung over the “Appassionata”, the same rumble-mumble from the bowels of the piano, now turned up even louder, was, at worst, akin to the sound of jet engines warming up. The Allegro assai was overwhelmingly bullish and stormy, the Andante con moto a lullaby as gentle and sweet as sugar first, then a showcase of souped-up romanticism. The polar opposite of the compelling understatedness of Hans Richter-Haaser whose obscure recording I much enjoy in this work. With shock-effect attacks it all went into the finale that, missed notes aside, sounded pretty good at first because finally the character of the music matched that of the playing a little more. But then Mr. Haefliger proceeded to bang the music (and the listener) so mercilessly into submission that all good will dissipated. If I didn’t know Beethoven could ever sound like Mahler: crass, brash, neurotic, wilful, brutal, etc., here was a pretty good hint that it might be possible, after all. It was Beethoven on steroids and Ecstasy and a disconcerting experience...perhaps because I am fresh off a serenely sublime Wilhelm Backhausen-trip through all the sonatas.

The Schubert sonata did nothing to ameliorate the impression from the first half of the program. This was simply unbefitting the good reputation of Mr. Haefliger’s. Lack of control and stiffness, a sense of constant effort and even slight discomfort, the piano growling away in disfigured rhythms, continuation of over-pedaling (given the surroundings), and memory- and finger-slips assured that less of this sublime music survived this train-wreck of a recital than desired.

This should not reflect on the Swiss Residence Concert Series – they could not have asked a more renown and reputable artist to appear. What he does with that recital is out of their hands. For anyone interested in architecture or good food (let alone both), this series is well worth attending no matter the musical result. And next time, the music (not always classical) might well be up to par, again.

Information about this series can be gotten by sending an e-mail to culture@was.rep.admin.ch