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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Ever-ambitious¹ Aimard wows with authenticity

This is a review of Pierre-Laurent Aimard's solo piano recital in June 2014

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)


24 June (updated, with link, 6 July)

This is a review of a solo piano recital given on Monday 23 June 2014 at The Maltings, Snape, by Pierre-Laurent Aimard during the 67th Aldeburgh Festival (@aldeburghmusic) – relayed live on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3)

Also on Aldeburgh...

A swaying, snarling, even spitting Schubert for our times

The Humphrey and Andy Show (Britten on Camera)



The best £13 ever spent !


Why are all concert / recital programmes not like this, mixing memory and desire, as Eliot once wrote ?

That was written at the end of the first half, but it could have been inspired by later seeing the Aldeburgh music booklet ‘Leaving a legacy in your will’, which has Eliot on the back cover (You are the music while the music lasts (which seems sure to be from Four Quartets)), and the words Make Your Mark¹ on the front :

If Pierre-Laurent Aimard (PLA – just as Kristin Scott Thomas is always KST in these postings) has not made his mark on people’s consciousness to-night, that of the bewitched audience at The Maltings, Snape, and in those listening to Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3), he never will !


PLA at The Friends' Reception


(One almost hesitates, having perfectly seen those fingers and hands crossing, separating, interlocking, even one above the other, to go to the Radio 3 web-site and Listen Again (for seven days only), but, as one of my fellow occupants of the front row suggested, one wants to hear again the juxtapositions that PLA has made here.)



He has built on the wonderful curation in past Aldeburgh Festivals, both in partnership with the amazing Tamara Stefanovich (on both one and two pianos), and his solo piano non-stop miscellanies, which had seemed, until last night, to be ground-breaking music marathons. Not that they were not, but PLA has now shattered the unhelpful image of separateness in and between composers and their compositions, and, with the sheer dynamism with which he interpreted these two, differing halves, thrown down a sort of gauntlet to the question of what we listen to – and why : with the first sounding as though it contained some Scriabin (although it actually did not, because studies of his, exquisitely rendered, had only been scheduled, according to the running order, after the interval), the second with a complete short set of pieces by Bartók, whose score alone (and not exclusively) was remarkable for resembling pyramids, upwards triangles of notation.


Afterwards, when a couple was heard comparing this Festival very positively with previous ones², they appeared (unless they were talking about another performer) to be saying that PLA’s response is an intellectual response, not an emotional one, whereas one could not agree less. Yes, he is clearly a shy man (on the level of being unassuming, but proud of what he has the conviction to attempt, and succeed with), but he clearly accepts that a public face is part of performance (as, maybe, Glenn Gloud could not), and he entered into this recital as another John Ogden (who, one is glad, is being recalled just now on Radio 3) :

No one who saw Ogden, for all that he had these feats of memory and technique at his fingertips (pun intended), could doubt how brilliantly he felt the music in his soul. (Quite apart from whether having the experience of worlds known to Alexander Scriabin [the programme prefers the spelling 'Skryabin'] allowed Ogden to enter into the landscape of his harmony, and make so many remarkable recordings that we can go to³.) With PLA, one could see the pleasure, joy, surprise, anguish and discomfort with what all this music, at its height, had to say to him from the page.

He has little physical resonance with the look of Ogden on stage, but there was a resemblance in that he had clearly fixed the order of works in his head not only so that he could transition into the next one as the page-turner moved the concertina, booklet or collection of pages that was (as the case might be) the score, but be fully present to the music in each case :

And this was not ‘compartmentalization’ at all, in no sense a glib characterization of the next composer, but internalizing the essence not only of the moment, but also of the connection that he had, in scheduling the works, made with what went before : the quotation from Eliot is so relevant here, that, whilst the music – in each case – lasted, he was not only with it, but was it.




A butterfly on the lavender in the lovely garden at By The Crossways
(where The Friends' Reception was held)


Performers as different as Stile Antico (@stileantico), Britten Sinfonia (@BrittenSinfonia), and (to name but one other pianist) Vladimir Horowitz⁴ all have had their notion of a sequence, but the programme of PLA’s two halves was curated in such a way that we only (especially if one had a clear view of PLA’s hands, and where he was on each score) incidentally noticed the practice-elements in these various Études, such as octaves, chimes, dissonances, or even what, at the beginning of the very first piece, presented just as a simple scale (and how it developed from there !).

He had not, of course, not just jumbled these pieces all together, and the programming alone deserves enormous acclaim (though could another have brought off delivering it ?), alongside the precision and pianism with which PLA played. (Some might have wanted to follow the listing, to see what he was playing, where ‘we had go to’, but that seemed unnecessary (although one was partly still playing The Radio 3 Guessing Game, when, having switched on during a piece, one tries to guess what it is, before it is announced).)

More so than through enviable technique and stamina, it was in the integrity, the conviction that this should – and would – work. Rarely, then, in a second half will we have heard the top note struck and stroked to such effect, but entirely integrally and organically, as much as finding pentatonic scales, or bell-notes, and chimes. PLA did seem to be saying two things very clearly :

Why do we need opus numbers, keys, and sets of pieces so often brought to us as sets⁵, etc. ?


More importantly :

Why, in all these things, do we seek what divides music from music ?


Do not just take @THEAGENTAPSLEY's word for it that this recital excelled - read The Guardian's review, which gave it five stars, and with the following extract from which one cannot at all disagree !


Yet he will surely never make a more heartfelt tribute to Ligeti than this recital, where he placed the Hungarian composer squarely in the context of the piano greats. This was an exquisitely constructed programme, interlacing 12 Ligeti studies with 12 by Debussy, Chopin, Bartók and Scriabin, first paired and then heard in blocks of three. It made for spellbinding listening.

Rian Evans

Also on Aldeburgh...

A swaying, snarling, even spitting Schubert for our times

The Humphrey and Andy Show (Britten on Camera)


End-notes

¹ In the good way, that of extending an ambit, here that of musicality and the true life that is, and is of, music.

² Not, though, that they seemed in any way let down with them, but highly impressed this time, whereas, at The Friends’ Reception on Sunday, someone had sounded a note that there had been uncertainty about how successful of this year, but that it – and PLA – had proved him or her wrong.

³ An excellent choice, made available by gullivior, is his interpretation of Beethoven's Opus 111...

⁴ Who could seem almost impatient to move on to the next piece in a recital, and not to be ruffled by applause…

⁵ In a recent piano recital (15 February) in King’s College Chapel (@ConcertsatKings), Leon McCawley (@leonmccawley) had brought us Rachmaninov’s whole Opus 32 (from 1910) in his second half, Thirteen Preludes, and, stunningly nice though it was to hear them through (the familiar and the less familiar), they made no connection of this kind :

Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms were still the other side of the interval, in another place. And, with the Songs Without Words, there had seemed little feeling for the three pieces played : how often (and what does it tell us ?) might we have been to a recital where we could take or leave staying after the interval ? (Yet, to give an example, Sodi Braide’s all-Liszt second half redeemed a performance at Cambridge Summer Music Festival where one had initially felt exactly that.)




Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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