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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 10 )
Beethoven Sonata Cycle III • Buchbinder

Beethoven Sonata Cycle III • Rudolf Buchbinder

Beethoven Circus Trick


A Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle courtesy Rudolf Buchbinder at the Salzburg Festival… recorded by Unitel for DVD, to boot: a frightfully unoriginal venture and the mind boggles at who might possibly want to sit down to watch the third (!) complete traversal of Beethoven Sonatas on their TV. Then again,
Unitel doubtlessly knows what they are doing: The Japanese and Austrian markets might respond. For everyone else, it makes more sense to sit down and take in one (or a couple) of these at the Mozarteum.

available at Amazon
L.v.Beethoven, Complete Piano Sonatas
R.Buchbinder (1st Cycle)
Teldec 2012

available at Amazon
W.G.Mozart, Complete Piano Concertos
R.Buchbinder / VSO
Profil Haenssler
The idea of performing all the 32 Sonatas in 6, 7, 8 recitals—or maybe even two days and from memory, of course—has become a modern high art party trick that many—serious and less serious—pianists have picked up on. It’s an Olympic thing with very little by way of musical reason but it still has a way of making a splash. Buchbinder himself has said that performing the sonatas chronologically was foolery, but even in a more interesting order, performed just by one pianist, is also no novel or exciting proposition… At least not compared to the alternative of putting on such a cycle with a diverse line up perhaps along lines like these: Rudolf Buchbinder, but also a recital each by the likes of Maurizio Pollini, Angela Hewitt, Mitsuko Uchida, Igor Levit, Christian Bezuidenhout, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, F.F.Guy, Ronald Brautigam, András Schiff, Gregory Sokolov, Evgeny Kissin, Richard Goode et al. Different schools, approaches, generations, instruments among which one could then compare. Well, one can dream. Or, as mentioned, just show up for one show—in this case the third of seven, on Friday August 8th.

Having established that I wouldn’t need a Beethoven cycle (live) from any one pianist over the course of two and a half weeks, in the first place, I might add that if I picked one pianist to do it, it would not be the perfectly admirable, charming, friendly, and positively obsessed Rudolf Buchbinder… his achievements on record (supreme Mozart concertos!) or in concert (classically brilliant Grieg) notwithstanding. His slightly workman-like playing promises me limited insight and excitement.

Prejudice is not an ideal state to enter a concert with… but better to be aware of it than to fool oneself, vainly, that one is free from it. In this case, it was not the mild prejudice against Buchbinder’s approach, though, that was fed, but my prejudice against the project as such. An odd first movement of Sonata No.3, op.2/3 came in “Allegro con fear-of-your-life-because-there-is-a-tiger-behind-you!” Hurried, harsh, accentuating individual notes for distinction, and a get-it-out-of-the-way tempo. The Adagio was lovingly moonlightish, then halting and loud. The Scherzo: Boldly rigorous and involving, and with a nifty twist of crudeness. And then Buchbinder hammered the pneumatically powered Allegro assai home on the steely sounding Steinway in the Grosser Saal which isn’t so gross that it needs quite so fierce an instrument.

In the little Sonata No.19 op.49/1, Buchbinder was not making a case for the op.49 pair’s inclusion in the “32”. And in the otherwise fine “Les Adieux” Sonata No.26, op.81a, the finale was loud and haphazardly churned out well beyond “lebhaft” in terms of speed—and not quite beyond it in terms of interest. The speed of the Presto in Sonata No.7, op.10/3 could cynically have been welcomed for meaning that the whole affair should be over all the sooner. The Largo and the Menuetto appeased momentarily, but then, with Buchbinder’s concentration or stamina waning, the grand five movement Sonata No.28, op.101 was an increasingly shoddy affair.

It started well enough: Given a sense of rigor, devoid of ease or any hint of the facile, there was seriousness taking the place of willfulness for a while, which was captivating. Just not for long. And the Finale became a minor disaster. The audience was in rapture all the same and demanded encores, which were duly delivered. I say encores, but really they were patching sessions from movements gone wrong in previous recitals: The Scherzo from Sonata op.31/3 and the Andante from op.14/2, both from the first day of the Sonata survey. These had the great advantage of being very well rehearsed. (By the same token, I think I can predict the encores of the fifth recital.)

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