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).
J.S.Bach, WTC, Book 1,
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.