Saturday, April 02, 2016

Tchaikovsky's two piano sonatas; Liszt's two Legends; German pianist Moog advocates aggressive piano technique with romantic works

It may be a bit unfair to review a pianist for a concert you didn’t attend – there aren’t enough copies of me to get to everything – so first I’ll direct “you” to a rather critical Washington Post review by Patrick Rucker of a Kennedy Center (Washington DC) solo piano concert by young German pianist Joseph Moog, “The problem with a pianist who plays loudly or softly but not in between

I’ll come back to this, but first, I looked at some of the music he played.

In fact, let me look first at something he didn’t play, the Piano Sonata #2 in C# Minor by Tchaikovsky. Op. 80, but published posthumously, a conservatory piece. There is a performance on YouTube with Victoria Postnikova .

The music seems inspired by Brahms in spots, with lots of chordal harmonies, not too pianistic, and the first movement winds down, after the second subject went back to major, to a surprisingly quiet ending, hushed, in the original minor. The second movement, in A, is a lovely song without words.
 The scherzo sounding more like the mature composer to evolve,  became the scherzo of the Winder Dreams symphony (#1), in the tritonal opposite key of G Minor – and works well in piano solo.  There is a brief Adagio intermezzo, which amounts to another slow movement. Then the finale is somewhat back to Brahms, with some syncopation in the main theme, and a wonderful hymn tune alla breve for a second subject, that will sound familiar (like I’ve heard it in church). The work goes to the enharmonic D-flat to end on the big tune, but there is a suddenly furious outburst, still in major, at the very end.

Moog played the better known Grand Sonata in G, Op. 37, which is the real #2.  I have an old Monotpr recording somewhere of the Richter performance now on YouTube. The overall tone of the work is that of “ballet music” on the piano.  The first movement sounds like a grand polonaise, with only rough adherence to Sonata form (like the finale of the “Polish” symphony).  The slow movement, in e minor, in very triple time, is another song without words and maybe the most popular movement.  The scherzo is in the gratuitous key of 6/16  (why not make it easy with 6/8?) It ends by drifting off in the upper registers, an idea that seems to belong particularly with the tonality of G Major.  The finale brings back a martial, ballet like mood and ends grandly in G.

The Liszt St. Francis Legends (“Talking to the Birds” and “Walking on the Water”), in A and E are familiar to me from my own piano days.  I was able to play #2, which is much more substantial (with an overwhelming ending), when a senior in high school.  The first is much harder, with all the leggerio, and the recitative idea doesn’t work so well for me.  Here is the link for Vasary’s performance, with the sheet music,   I have an Erato recording of an orchestral transcription by James Conlon.

I found a little excerpt of Moog playing the Beethoven Eroica Variations, Op. 35, and cannot necessarily confirm the Post’s criticism.  When I play recordings at home from YouTube or CD’s on my computer, it does seem that on piano, the dynamic range is never as nuanced as it should be.  In fact, I rather like aggressive playing style with romantic works.  For example, David Kaplan proves that when he plays the adaptation of the “David Dances” in concert (April 26, 2015).

I found a lot of short excerpts of Moog on YouTube.  Here he plays a Bach-Busoni chorale.

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