Nelson Goerner was taped at the Verbier Festival, Switzerland,
on 19 July 2009. His recital was presented in a rather stark
way; he wore a black sweatshirt under his black jacket, and
his somewhat elongated, bony, Holmesian visage appears almost
too-brainy, given the stark juxtaposition of pale skin and unyielding
black clothes. Add to this the rather phosphorescent, if limited,
red and green Verbier lighting and you have a case of close
textual analysis at work – a stripping away of inessentials,
of fripperies, to the essential core of the music.
There are two main works, both sonatas. The first is Chopin’s
B minor. Goerner, forty years of age at the time, plays with
mature directness and intelligence. There are no idiosyncrasies,
no peculiarities of accent or rhythm or chording or colour.
The only exception is his, to me, annoying habit of taking his
hands off the keyboard at the end of certain movements in a
vigorous gesture, whilst keeping down the pedal. The result
is unsympathetic, musically and visually, and smacks a little
of gallery-pleasing. Musically things are fine, not least in
the Scherzo and the somewhat understated but highly effective
slow movement. The finale is powerful, cogent and finely judged.
In terms of camera-work one should note that there are shots
from an angle just under the keyboard so one can see the full
extent of the arch of Goerner’s fingers – and his clear, no-nonsense
technique. He plays two encores – a brilliantly executed C sharp
minor Etude and the opus companion in A flat major.
The other sonata is Beethoven’s Les Adieux, which is
perhaps rather more direct a reading than the Chopin but shares
with it an unselfconscious directness that doesn’t spurn emotion
but doesn’t indulge it either. Again, Goerner sits coolly and
largely motionless. There are very few ‘heavenly’ gestures –
something the clarinettist Richard Adeney in his outrageous
autobiography detected in Myra Hess when he spied in one of
her scores the self-instruction; ‘look straight up here, eyes
shut’ – or words to that effect. No, Goerner is serious, sober
and not given to excess.
The recital is thus short of ‘incident’, as such, but it’s not
short of musical distinction.