Thursday, October 06, 2011

Strathmore presents recital by Soheil Nasseri, featuring Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata

On Thursday, Oct. 6, the Mansion at the Strathmore in Rockville, MD presented pianist Soheil Nasseri. Apparently in his early 30s, he has developed the reputation of one of New York’s most prolific pianists in terms of repertoire played, with a heavy emphasis on Beethoven. He has pledge to perform all of Beethoven’s music involving piano by 2020, the 250th birthday year for the composer.

The concert was performed on a 19th Century Broadwood piano, manufactured in England, with only 85 keys (ending in the highest A), with a sound more authentic to the 19th Century. The sonority is thick by modern standards, and it is hard to play the piano softly.

The program opened with four of the Novelletten from Op. 21 (1, 4, 5, 6)  by Robert Schumann.  The pieces are varied and a bit episodic, and it was sometimes difficult to tell where one piece ended.

The program continued with the Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49, by Frederic Chopin.  The piece starts with a funeral theme that does not return; like the B-flat Minor Scherzo, it ends in the relative major, which is not totally convincing. (But Mahler did that with the first movement of his Third Symphony, and the tonality progression works perfectly).

The highlight of the program was the Hammerklavier Sonata, #29, Op. 106, in B-flat, by Ludwig van Beethoven.  The last movement fugue has been called “Bach on steroids” .  The F# minor Adagio, as played, creates a leaden effect in a few places that I now realize I was trying to recreate in my own Third Sonata, which I wrote at age 18 as my father recovered from a “mild heart attack” related the emotional upheaval of my 1961 William and Mary expulsion (discussed elsewhere in my blogs).  I remember composing that passage sitting in the living room near a backyard picture window in the late winter of 1962, as then I could no longer play records at normal volume in the basement because they disturbed father as he rested in the bedroom above.   But I probably didn’t have a recording of the work until I was working.

There is something else I noticed during the sonata: the tension and harmonic variety comes from the counterpoint and motives, not from deliberate using of varied chords. Otherwise, the harmonic scheme on its own could have sounded perfunctory.  I also remember when taking piano that at first I didn't accept the idea that "many melodies" or simultaneous melodies could "make sense", the way it enriches an adult's musical ear. 

Mr. Nasseri played an encore, a transcription of a familiar Bach aria, "Jesu, Joy of man's desiring". 

We had a  discussion with the artist after the concert (most of the audience remained), and he said that the “talent” (almost in the Biblical sense of the Parable of the Talents) of a performer and of a composer can be very different gifts. He described the way he memorizes music as he prepares it, and he says it took almost a year to learn the Hammerklavier. (Back in the 1960s, I had a friend who said no one should play Beethoven until he was 30!)

Here is Mr. Nasseri's website link.

Here’s a quirky video by “Hardest Piano Pieces” of a “takedown” of the Hammerkavier fugue, whatever that means.

I’ve mentioned before that the first Piano Concerto by a teenage Eugen d’Albert has an incredible fugal (almost atonal) cadenza just before the climax of the whole piece, that somewhat recalls the mood of the HammerKlavier fugue. 

Note: The Mansion at Strathmore has a small art museum, with a display about the Umm el-Fahem Art Gallery in the "Arab Sector" of Israel. 

1 comment:

flower26dance said...

With all due respect, it would have been much more useful if you wrote about the performance and not just the description of the music, as it might have been in the program notes. A performer's interpretation and execution of the music is the main reason anyone might want to read a musical blog.