Nelson Goerner shares with Daniel Barenboim both Argentinian nationality
and a parallel sense of introspection; Goerner’s Schubert, for example,
is emboldened by a muscularity of tone, as Barenboim’s was in his early
years, and a super-refined keyboard touch that speaks often with the
conflict of inner sounds (this is a pianist who knows exactly how to
play a pianissimo marking in the context of the wider dynamic
picture). In the D850, for example, Goerner bought an intensely prophetic
voice to the Con moto, which at times sounded almost improvised,
but the rhythmic syncopations and impressionistic colouring which litter
the second theme were masterfully negotiated with kaleidoscopic brilliance.
A similar delicacy illuminated a spontaneous reading of the Rondo. Yet,
things were not always as crystalline as this. Goerner is, to put it
politely, a diminutive figure (when he appeared on the platform he seemed
quite overshadowed by the Steinway) but he seems almost to overcompensate
for this by producing fffs of massive proportions. It is arguable
that his performance of the opening Allegro vivace was just too
loud with the consequent muddying of textures and dynamics such rampant
playing might suggest. Yet, even here, there were compensations – his
pedalling, for example, is a revelation that seems to control his sometimes
heavy keyboard range.
If such a technique is not ideally suited to the subtleties
of Schubert’s late sonatas it did not seem misplaced in a stunning performance
of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1. After recently hearing Kissin
perform the same work (in a recital of the same composers) Goerner’s
performance is one that doesn’t find itself overshadowed by Kissin’s
own forbidding technique. The interpretation was devilish with Goerner
overplaying the dissonance of the piled-up fifths just enough to suggest
the Mephistophelian allusions. With the waltz delivered with expressive
range and the gallop driven by an apocalyptic rush of horsemen on the
brink it was a performance that melded the seductive with the virtuosic.
Goerner’s tremendous forte playing (which reminded me of Toscanini’s
quip that if he got his orchestra to play any louder he’d break the
recording equipment – ‘Break the equipment!’) merely added to the drama.
His Proms debut this year – in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto – should
be an unmissable concert based on this recital.
Marc-André Hamelin’s recital was of a very different kind. Eschewing
the gravity of Schubert and the blistering virtuosity of Liszt Hamelin
chose Schumann and Albéniz. In some ways this recital was at
an altogether higher level of artistry than Goerner’s had been; yet,
Hamelin’s intellectual grasp, incandescent keyboard control and near-perfect
tonal range (especially evident in Iberia) didn’t always overshadow
Goerner’s own achievements.
Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op.12 suffered
at times from a loudness that mitigated some of this work’s delicacy.
True, the opening bars of ‘Die Abend’ had been delivered with a clear
separation of the right and left hand variant that seemed at first hypnotic
but it was also somewhat anodyne, not helped by some splintered note
playing that coarsened the mood. ‘Aufschwung’ ended with an abrupt closing
pedal that made this reviewer too well aware of the problems with balance
Hamelin seemed to be having early on in the work. This settled quickly
– and for the next six movements Hamelin gave us a performance that
was as well defined as you could expect to hear. Brilliant articulation
– especially in ‘Traumes-Wirren’ - struck the ideal balance between
virtuosity and poetry and in ‘In Der Nacht’ there was a titanic struggle
that ended in almost unresolved anger, aided by some spectacular sonorities
of shattering proportions. Contrasted with the brooding introspection
of ‘Ende vom Lied’, with the resolution of the coda so beautifully counterpointed,
it was a performance that developed into something memorable.
Even more so was Book 3 of Iberia, this performance
of which dripped with Mediterranean colour. Notable was the closing
‘Lavapiés’ – in part of a riot of conflicting harmonies and decorous
tonality - which was incandescently played and poetically conceived.
‘El Polo’ had been a raucous display of obsession and collision with
Hamelin evoking from the keyboard a glittering array of effects suggestive
of the strumming percussiveness of the guitar. ‘El Albaicin’ had the
perfect balance of tranquillity and sultry perfume. It impressed on
simple terms – and not least because Hamelin showed how intensely full
of colour and impressionistic the piano can sound.