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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 1 )
Bach Recital • Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Recital • Pierre-Laurent Aimard

A Happy Spiritual Vortex

For a couple years, the Salzburg Festival has opened its doors a week earlier than traditionally, dubbing the prequel to the Festival—officially part of it, but taking place before the official opening ceremony— “Ouverture spirituelle”. It began on the 18th with the BRSO and Haitink in Haydn’s Creation. On Saturday came the first highlight—which, paraphrasing everyone I know who was there, was “a concert to remember for years, if not decades”: Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine with John Eliot Gardiner and his bands, that used the Salzburg cathedral to ingenious acoustic effect. I missed that, but Monday I had my own Ouverture spirituelle in the form of Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recital of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier.

Pictures (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Monika Rittershaus (BRSO/Haitink/Padmore) & Michael Pöhn (Concentus/Harnoncourt).

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, WTC, Book 1,
P-L. Aimard

Timed to coincide, more or less, with his latest CD release, he performed the whole Book I of the “Old Testament of the classical keyboard” at the Mozarteum’s Great Hall. Unlike his Art of the Fugue tour a few years ago, which left me oddly wanting (after high expectations), this time all those lofty expectations—always in place, with Aimard—were met and exceeded.

A scheduling overlap with Harnoncourt, his Concentus Musicus, and the last three Mozart Symphonies at the Grosses Festspielhaus across the Salzach must have drawn some would-be Bach-listeners and meant a few empty rows in the Mozarteum. But the rest made up with attentiveness and quiet enthusiasm, to listen to Aimard’s pedal-free simplicity. Unpretentious in his playing, Aimard looks like a greatly disturbed Siberian owl—especially in the trickier fugues, where his jaws and eyebrows were working almost as hard as the fingers. Amid a rock-solid, steady pulse throughout, the C-sharp major Prelude was all playfulness, the C-sharp minor Fugue a regal affair from which the D major Prelude seemed to surge forth. The F major Prelude and Fugue were swift and bubbly, almost, except always in that dead-on rhythm that Aimard kept and which makes Bach—and this work in particular—so increasingly compelling: A spiritual vortex into which one lets PLA suck one happily. The first half of the set ended with a bitter-sweet F minor Prelude and an “Art-of-the-Fugue” type of dry Fugue.

After the intermission a fresh and friendly—almost fiendish—F-sharp major Prelude re-opened the proceedings; contrasting immediately with the lyrical somberness of the coupled Fugue. The G major Prelude was animated like hyperactive sprites during happy hour… the staggered, developing trills of the G minor Prelude were worked out with wonderful clarity. After the gravitas of the G-sharp Fugue, the pointillist dotted A major Fugue struck as “Wildness, organized”: A masterpiece of compelling-propelling rigor that suggests the existence of higher planes. After the tender closing B minor (always special with Bach, that key) Prelude and the grand, chromatically shimmering Fugue, the audience took a few seconds of genuine, hazy and reverent silence before bursting out in the greatly deserved applause and standing ovations. Aimard looked like a much happier owl now, and fluttered off stage.

Review also to appear on the website of AUDITORIUM.


Gary said...

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to attend the Salzburg Festival for the first time next year?

jfl said...

Bring an umbrella, have lots of white wine spritzers, enjoy. Quite simple, really. :-) Oh, and hike on the days you are not going to concerts and/or rent a bike and make it really count!

Gary said...

Thanks. What is the best way to get tickets and find a place to stay? When do tickets go on sale for next year?

jfl said...

I'm not sure I can be of much help there... tickets and any information surrounding that should be available here: Salzburg Festival Website

Only the 'biggest hits' are sold out, these days, for most everything else (which I think includes some of the most interesting gems), tickets can be had even as late as the day of the performance. (Like for today's superb Bruckner 2nd.)

Places to stay... always depends on the budget. There are monasteries in and around S'bg, some of which offer spartan-yet-lovely rooms at reasonable rates.



Gary said...