AN EXTRAORDINARY SHOWCASE
MALCOLM TROUP was at the
Beethoven Piano Society of Europe's
annual Summer Festival in London
Judging by the steadily increasing audiences during the course of the last two weeks [27 July to 10 August 2007], Londoners are beginning to wake up to the extraordinary showcase of pianism from all corners of the globe which awaits them at the annual Regent Hall Oxford Street Summer Festival of the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe.
Inaugurating this series of lunchtime recitals, as was only right and proper, was British pianist David Secchi (Wells Cathedral School), who shared a lunchtime recital with Iranian Walid El Yafi (Chetham's School Manchester) just as they had earlier shared First Prize in the Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition sponsored by Bluthner Pianos last March. No two approaches to the keyboard could have been more contrasting -- it was as if you were to compare Schnabel with Rubinstein, the one searching deeply, the other riding high -- and, without meaning to, evoked some of the excitements of the salon duels of a Romantic age. David, a pianist's pianist, sacrificed everything -- technique, emotion, display -- on the altar of music while Walid, lively extrovert personality that he is, used the music as a means to an end in his all-consuming search for self-expression and communication.
Between them, they made short but eloquent work of two of Beethoven's most demanding masterpieces, the Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas, David as unrelenting in the drive and momentum of the first movement of the Waldstein (even to the point of rushing some of his triplet broken-chords in the development) as Walid in the last movement of the Appassionata, where the speed with which he began the Allegro assai (sic!) raised doubts as to what might happen when he entered the home-stretch of the Presto -- a rollercoaster ride if ever there was one but always with him firmly in control.
Only a musician supremely given up to his craft, especially one so young as Secchi, would dare to adopt so slow a tempo for the Adagio -- as Beethoven surely must have done himself -- imbuing each bar with its full weight of depth and meaning, nor begin the Rondo in such an enchanting aureole of pedalling (true to Beethoven's own indications). Nor did he skimp the least detail: in the dreaded octave-glissandi, which so many of today's professionals simplify into rapid parallel-motion scales between the two hands, David sailed through them on the modern Steinway as if it had been a light-action Viennese piano of Beethoven's time. Only in the second subject of Walid's first movement of the Appassionata, as in the rather perfunctory Andante con moto which followed, did one realize the as yet untended Achilles' heel of this fire-breathing young hero: the lack of a true legato even more than ever necessary in such octave passages requiring finger substitution to achieve an unbroken line. But there was no doubting that his virtuosity, like a coiled spring, could reach histrionic levels when roused: he dramatized Beethoven's biggest musical gestures with physical gestures of his own, appearing to throw one arpeggiated ff chord right over his shoulder.
Copyright © 15 August 2007
Malcolm Troup, London UK