Known earlier in these pages for his magnificent accompanying skills (cross reference below), it is not at all surprising that Gilbert Kalish is more than up to the task of bringing three of “mature” (referring to construction on sonic improvements) works to glorious life from three composers who most certainly realized the expanding opportunities for enhanced expression.
No better way to begin this recital than with Haydn’s last piano sonata (Op. 62 in E-flat major, Hob. XVI: 52).
Calixa Lavallée must certainly have known it, as the opening theme is just a note or two away from Canada’s national anthem. This ever-engaging “Allegro” is a marvel of texture, tone, harmonic excursions and the master’s uncanny use of music’s most intriguing element: silence (so much can he heard when there is “nothing” in the air!). The symphonist is never far from the fray with gentle horn calls supporting some moments of great delicacy. The employment of semi-tone driven (in terms of resolution) chords of the augmented six deftly prepare the ear for the “astonishing” slow movement.
Musicologists have long marvelled/puzzled over the “Adagio” being in the key of E major—for some, it’s almost scandalous that Haydn would shift to an unrelated key. However, the ear can certainly make the connection when E flat is replaced by D sharp—the leading note of E (same pitch, different clothes). As to the music, much of it is the personification of repose—Kalish renders the many double-dotted rhythms with surety and handles the almost rhapsodic moments with aplomb. The tolling adieu is magical—no matter how this tonality came to “B”.
The concluding “Presto” is a celebration of happiness and joy, infused with bits of “catch me if you can” flurries (Kalish almost always does), a few more dollops of silence and lots of “punch”.
On Christmas Eve, my next door neighbour (of course we were both masked) rang the doorbell and delivered a tin full of Xmas “somethings”. From fruitcake to gingerbread, shortbread and butter tarts—these wee morsels were a delight with every bite. The same can be said for Beethoven’s Op. 119 Bagatelles: all homemade; some long ago recipes; some new and er, “currant”. So savour these 11 offerings and marvel at the subtlety, discretion, bravura and skill in which they are realized by Kalish.
This classical feast concludes with Schubert’s very last instrumental work: Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat, D. 960. Doubtless knowing that his days were numbered (just two months remained in this singular life), the composer demonstrates his absolute mastery of form, emotion and invention.
The “heavenly length” “Molto moderato” can easily soothe any savage beast. Kalish presents the harmonically rich lines and developments with loving care and respect, suffering only occasionally from a touch too much affectation (measured in milliseconds by these ears). The closing melodic similarity to O come let us adore him, seems entirely apt.
The highlight of this performance is hands down the “Andante sostenuto.” Kalish readily sustains the deliberate pace, producing mesmerizing pedals as the music goes on its truly incredible journey. The shift to C major is nothing short of sublime, setting the artistic stage for a positive finish just a half step (C sharp) up.
The “Scherzo” is playful indeed, wanting just a bit more dryness in the contrasting sections to completely satisfy.
Finally, the “Allegro ma non troppo” features a covey of clarion calls that soon morph into siren calls. Who couldn’t but be drawn in to the unfolding drama, as hope battles angst? A special joy are the extreme high register offerings which Kalish “rings” in a manner that Alfred Brendel would approve. JWR