Concert 1 Review - Wednesday 11 October 2017 PDF Print E-mail

FRANÇOIS-FRÉDÉRIC GUY

Piano

Beethoven Sonata no.14 in C# min, op 27 no. 2 'Moonlight' 
Beethoven  Sonata no. 8 in C min, op 13 'Pathétique' 
Brahms       Piano Sonata in F min, no. 3, op 5           

 

Brahmsian Fireworks at the Ilkley Concert Club

 

Club members gave a tumultuous welcome to the French pianist, François-Frédéric Guy, when he opened the 72nd season at the Kings Hall last Wednesday with a programme of sonatas by Beethoven and Brahms.

 

The first half was devoted to the two most well-known of Beethoven's sonatas – the 'Moonlight' and the 'Pathétique'. It is hard to play these famous pieces well but here we heard performances that were completely individual, undoubtedly virtuousic and clearly rooted in a deeply-felt relationship with the score and the instrument. So absorbed was Guy with recreating Beethoven's music that he looked almost dazed when torn away from the piano to acknowledge the applause.
I felt sometimes that the tempi chosen were too fast to allow the music to be heard clearly: in the last movement of the 'Moonlight' I found the running semiquavers too rushed. For me there was also not enough singing tone in the Adagio cantabile of the 'Pathétique'. I prefer a more classical approach to these sonatas but there is a good argument for trying to recreate the 'shock of the new' which the first listeners would have experienced in Beethoven by a wilder, more romantic pianism.

 

However, all such doubts were blown away by the performance of Brahms' F minor Piano Sonata in the second half! This is a work in which the 20 year-old Brahms was laying claim to the mantle of Beethoven, a work with almost too many musical ideas for its own good. The outer movements were given all the fire they needed, their disparate elements forged into a coherent whole. The three central movements displayed wonderful tenderness, with Guy bringing out a wealth of colour, particularly in the pianissimos. It was a complete performance and the audience acknowledged it with lengthy and generous applause, to which Guy responded with equal generosity in his encores – a shimmering account of the Brahms Intermezzo Op 119 no. 1 matched with a crisply articulated performance of Beethoven's 'Für Elise'.

 

The following recordings were recommended in the concert programme

 

Beethoven

The choice here is enormous, with many superb recordings of the Piano Sonatas. I am suggesting two favourites of mine which include both Sonatas. Warner Classics have just re-issued the digital recording of all the Sonatas and Bagatelles played by Stephen Kovacevich. These are sturdy, exciting, yet sensitive performances with very good recording quality, and are available in a 9 disc set for around the price of one full price CD (0190295869229).

As an alternative, a firm favourite of mine for many years, Wilhelm Kempff performs Sonatas Nos. 8, 14, 21 & 23 on DGG 4474042 (medium price).
M. Guy's interesting performances are available on a 3 CD set from Zig Zag Territoires ZZT 111101 (medium price).


Brahms

Unfortunately, the superb recording by Clifford Curzon is only available as part of a large set, But some copies may be available via the internet. Stephen Hough provides a superbly performed modern recording, coupled with the Ballades Op.10, on Hyperion CDA67237 (full price). As a budget alternative, a favourite pianist of mine, Idil Biret performs the same programme on Naxos 8.550352.
M. Guy's recordings of the three Brahms Piano Sonatas are on Evidence Classics EVCD 022 (two discs at medium price).

Raymond Waud