Musically, this was a demanding
programme. The first part coupled two demanding Beethoven Sonatas –
the E flat, Op. 7 and the A flat, Op. 110. Both pose a severe interpretative
as well as technical challenge to the soloist. For the second part,
Binns had chosen two Chopin Scherzos (the C sharp minor, Op. 39 and
the E major, Op. 54), two Nocturnes and that Chopin challenge par
excellence, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61.
Playing to a hall that was half
full at best, Binns presented in the main accurate, but ultimately dull
interpretations of some of the best-loved pieces in the piano’s repertoire.
The E flat Sonata Op. 7 is from Beethoven’s first period and exhibits
all of the effervescence of youth. Alas, it was difficult to credit
in Binns’ hands. The Allegro was neither ‘molto’ nor ‘con brio’. It
was insightful to hear a performance that was intent on highlighting
the Haydnesque elements in the score, but despite Binns’ clarity of
finger, the result was dull. Again, the Largo did not live up to its
‘con gran espressione’ instruction, despite an appropriately slow speed.
If one could point to nice touches (the left hand staccato, for instance),
in the final analysis Binns never penetrated beneath the surface. There
was a lack of joie-de-vivre to the whole and, to add insult to injury,
frequent rushing in the final movement.
Of course we enter a different
world with the A flat Sonata, Op. 110 (1821-2). Initial impressions
were positive, with good and even arpeggiations, although even here
an over-literal approach to harmony robbed some passages of their magic.
The prevailing pedestrian approach was most pronounced in the Allegro
molto second movement. At least the final Fugue had some sense of serenity
at times, and the bass some sort of organ-like grandeur. But late Beethoven
really should not leave one cold.
It was with Chopin that Binns
threatened to reveal himself as an acceptable interpreter, at least.
But compare his Scherzo in C sharp minor (Op. 39) with Pollini
at the Royal Festival Hall, and you are in a different league. Binns
the virtuoso was on the threshold of making a welcome appearance, but
never actually made it out: the coda hung on, but only just. If the
Nocturne, Op. 62 No. 1 lacked interior simplicity, it was the E major
Scherzo, Op. 54 that acted as a turning point of sorts for the Chopin
part of the concert. Here the facility was good, with ‘laughing’ staccati
making the ‘joke’ element more obvious than usual. Funnily enough, there
was also a sense of intimacy which, paradoxically, was missing in both
of the Nocturnes. Even here, though, the ending teetered on the brink.
Finally, the Polonaise-Fantaisie
which at least gave some sense of completion to the evening. There was
a good sense of searching, the Polonaise a ghost hovering in the background.
Here, at last, was a sense of the greatness of the composition Binns
was playing. But it was too late to rescue the evening.