The Mozart quartets offer about an hour of music. As soloist, Claudi Arimany called the tune and chose generally fast tempi for the allegros, including the rondos. This is not demanding music, but it is pleasurably tuneful, memorably so. But there are also moments of elegance. It is this mix of the simple and sophisticated, the utterly ordered alongside elements less predictable that has maintained the popularity of Mozart’s music for over two centuries. It was a perfect opportunity for Claudi Arimany to display his unquestionable virtuosity, whilst Joaquin Palomares, David Fons and Gonzalo Meseguer, the members of the Beaux Arts Trio, played their substantial part.
The two piano recitals by Marco Tezza presented the Alfas audience with something of a challenge. The Friday programme was Schubert’s Sonata in B flat D960 coupled with In The Mists by Leos Janacek, whilst on Sunday he repeated the Schubert, but coupled it with Schumann’s Gesänge der Frühe, opus 133.
Schubert’s last sonata for piano is a challenging work under any hands. It is one of the longest piano sonatas ever written and its deceptively light textures often give way to dark, depressed corners of the human psyche as its composer contemplated what was to prove a fatal illness and an approaching death that was only weeks in the future. And, given he had suffered symptoms for several years, he was certainly aware of the process.
The work’s tempi markings are possibly ambiguous, but most pianists stick at least roughly to the broad moderato of the first movement in the even broader andante of movement two. But the first movement is moderato qualified by the composer with “molto” and the andante of the second with “sostenuto”. The mind could spend quite some time working out how to be “very” moderate or indeed how walking maybe “sustained”, other than by not actually stopping.
Now it appears that most pianists interpret the first movement’s pace at the allegro end of moderato and the second’s andante towards adagio. The notable exception to this pattern was Sviatoslav Richter, whose YouTube performance of the piece from 1972 is timed at over forty-seven minutes, with the opening moderato running to twenty-four minutes. Most performances, however, do not run to such lengths. Alfred Brendel, for instance, albeit ignoring a repeat or two, could deliver the work in just over thirty-five minutes.
Imagine, then, the level of surprise when, preparing to introduce the concert, Marco Tezza asked me to request that there should be no applause between movements because the piece would last no less than fifty-five minutes. And it did. I would not have been surprised if he had said thirty-five minutes. I would have questioned forty-five, but fifty-five just passed over me, so unexpected it precluded reaction.
And it was the first two movements that stretched time. Rather than a life story told at a story-teller’s pace, the movement became an autobiographical reflection, a series of questions, perhaps from a dying composer’s rambling diary, all of which led to the repetition of “Did I deserve this?” It is a work I have heard hundreds of times, but Marco Tezza’s performance was immediately something different when, at the end of the opening phrase, I became conscious for the first time that there is a clashing semitone in the harmony. The second movement became a long bout of self-pity, interspersed with what came across as memories, telling of better times in the past that contrasted ever more bleakly with the dark present.
Movements three and four were more conventional, but because of what had preceded them, they took on the sense of denials, expressing an inability to face up to the reality that had demanded attention in the first two.
I admit that after the Friday concert I was not convinced. After Sunday’s concert when he repeated the work, I was. It’s an approach that will not replace the existing B-flat sonata in my head but will now live forever alongside it as a different take on what had become the composer’s uncomfortable reality. And, by the way, the Janacek In The Mists on Friday night and the Schumann Gesänge der Frühe on Sunday both contributed to and indeed emphasized the feeling of introspection. On both occasions, we were sent home with a little encore, Chauncey Olcott’s arrangement of My Wild Irish Rose, played, believe it or not, very slowly and introspectively. Music is a very powerful language, especially when understated.