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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Janácek, Brahms Lars Vogt (piano), Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday, April 5th, 2004 (CC)

Lars Vogt has singularly failed to impress me in the past. His EMI disc of Brahms seemed to reveal a distinct impression of skimming the surface of the music; his live 'Emperor' with the touring Detroiters in October 2001 at the Royal Festival Hall was again lacking in depth. It was actually the programming rather than the pianist that attracted me to the present recital – late Beethoven (Bagatelles, Op. 126); Janácek’s V mlhách (In the mists, 1912) and late Brahms (Op. 119). In the cases of Beethoven and Brahms, these final-period works represent a concentration of utterance, a concentration of thought that provides the utmost challenge for both performer and listener; In the mists is Janácek’s last major piano work and fully reflects the intensity of its musical surroundings here.

Beethoven’s Op. 126 Bagatelles are actually six miracles in the distillation of a musical language. Surprising, perhaps, that Vogt should launch straight into the first Bagatelle of the set without settling himself or the audience. His playing did, indeed, reflect this in its initial superficiality before he was able to move more towards a projection of notated fantasy. His dynamic range is wide, and he is able to play loudly and forcefully without indulging in martellato (the fourth piece demands this ability). Interestingly, it was this fourth piece that cast further doubts – the return of the first section was significantly lower in voltage than the opening sally, significantly lower in confidence. However, by the time of the manic Jekyll-and-Hyde schizophrenia of the sixth Bagatelle, which juxtaposes Presto with Andante amabile, Vogt was much closer to Beethoven – but by then it was time for the challenge of Janácek.

In the Mists is Janácek’s last major piano work. Here Vogt seemed to revel in the dark sounds and huge contrasts, not to mention the explosions (yet in those he needed more depth of tone). His account had moments of real vision (the ‘simple’ folk-theme-like parts were particularly impressive), but it failed to eclipse memories of Andras Schiff in this same venue. Vogt’s pianissimi explained why – quiet and marvellously controlled, they nevertheless failed to drag the audience into Janácek’s elusive thoughts.

Finally, Brahms Klavierstücke, Op. 119, in a performance that seemed in the main to go deeper than his above-mentioned EMI Brahms recording (there of the F minor Sonata and the Ballades). The first piece of Op. 119 was revealed as the masterpiece of voice-leading it is; out of the shifting harmonies of the second emerged a sepia-tinged Viennese waltz; the third included laughing staccati. Only the fourth piece lacked the final ounce of muscular strength (perhaps Vogt was over-compensating for the hall’s acoustic?). I have yet to hear Vogt’s EMI recording of Brahms Opp. 116-119 (5 57543 2) – it should, I believe, be an interesting experience.

Lars Vogt’s playing does seem to have moved on from the sporadic literalism of the past few years. It is to be hoped that Vogt will continue to grow as an artist.

Colin Clarke





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