Have you ever felt the need to call 911 during a concert? On occasion, there is murder on the stage or artistic robbery when the announced program has been significantly altered, rather like ordering a steak and being servedliver. In some performances, the fashion police and their judges should be summoned to mete out sentences of sartorial and aesthetic rehabilitation.
Anton Kuerti’s solo recital at the Niagara International Chamber Music Festival drew a capacity crowd and the promise of excellence. (His 2005 performance of Mendelssohn and Brahms still lingers in memory.)
From the opening notes of Mozart’s extra-personal Fantasie in D Minor, even the less-than-stellar instrument couldn’t diminish the style, flow and sensitivity that characterized every phrase. “Phhhennupt!” The balance was ideal; the bass lines emerged from the long-used strings with a marvellous blend of discretion and authority. “Phhhennupt! Phhhennupt!”
A few rows back, a patron was in obvious respiratory—“Phhhennupt!”—difficulty. Surely the equally-distracting crinkle of a cough-drop wrapper would add another voice to the otherwise attentive air, but soon quash the unwanted interruptions. No cellophane—;instead, a half-dozen random interjections of “Phhhennupt!” were unleashed.
The thunderous applause soon drowned out the bronchial barrage and Kuerti returned to offer his insights into Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, KV 310. To be sure, the opening “Allegro maestoso” was a tad more rough-and-ready than expected, but the integrity behind this point of view was never in doubt. Nonetheless, that near-frenetic energy set the stage beautifully for the poignant “Andante cantabile,” which, “Phhhennupt!,” provided the finest moments of the first half. Kuerti mined an amazing variety of tone and texture and was particularly attentive to the notion that repeated notes—while having the same pitch—should each have a life of their own. Marvellous!
“Phhhennupt! Phhhennupt!! Phhhennupt!!!” This series of recurring tones—unabated—drew performer and audience alike away from the art that was, by now, struggling for supremacy in the ears and minds of those who had ventured forth to savour the music; those wanting to listen without the constant distractions of a busy household or through acoustically-limited iPOD headphones.
It was entirely appropriate that closing “Presto” was dashed off more with anger than heady passion. “Take that!” roared the keyboard even as the Phhhennupt!-assault—like Hezbollah rockets—continued unabated.
Before the “Moonlight Sonata” began its blissful journey and reverberated off the wooden floor and pews of St. Marks Anglican Church, a nearby couple—who had tried to stare the unwanted nasal accompanist into a muted state—left the building. Imagine their level of discomfort—enough to drive them from what turned out to be a wonderfully understated reading. Their love of the music and virtual guarantee of a first-rate performance was no match for the other type of human experience that was, indeed, too close for comfort.
In the finale of one of Beethoven’s most beloved creations, Kuerti threw caution to the wind and—perhaps egged on by back-row intrusions into the world of the sublime—drove the keys as hard as he could: most certainly a rebel with a cause!
In complete contrast, three days earlier the Moscow Piano Trio provided four generous helpings of Shostakovich’s chamber music in the quiet confines of the Market Room at the Court House.
For well over two hours, the four-dozen concertgoers lucky enough to be present were treated to a consistently high level of artistry and palpable passion for the composer’s craft.
From a purely musical viewpoint, the highlight was Mikhail Utkin’s magnificent delivery of the Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 40. Pianist Alexander Bonduriansky—his able collaborator—matched tempo, tone and mood with aplomb, having the rare gift of knowing just when to thrust or parry. Seeing/hearing two musicians happily abandon showmanship in favour of deeply introspective communication is a lesson that, hopefully, wasn’t lost on the many aspiring student instrumentalists (and professionals of the assemblage) in attendance.
Of the two trios (No.1, Op. 8; No. 2, Op. 67), the former—after some surprisingly ragged opening measures settled down—gave the most pleasure. The young composer’s unabashed naïveté and joy lifted everyone’s spirits. It was especially pleasing to see both Utkin and his colleague—violinist Vladimir Ivanov—use every bit of their bows in the service of true legato. Ivanov was also heard in the Op.134 Violin Sonata where only a few pitch vagaries marred the otherwise convincing result.
For its part, the audience listened attentively, hanging on every note, eagerly demonstrating approval at every opportunity. All were thoroughly satisfied in a way that just wasn’t possible to the throng that attended Kuerti with equally great expectations. JWR