Thursday, May 05, 2011

Aimard plays Liszt, Scriabin, Berg, Wagner

Had the chance to hear Pierre Laurent-Aimard live for the first time Thursday evening at the 6th and I synagogue. I know calling someone's approach "clinical" can imply you are accusing them of being a robot pianist, but it's really a compliment here, I swear. Aimard's masterful refinement of tone and color allow him to create insightful, intense readings full of precise detail.
Hearing Wagner's non-operatic music is always kind of disappointing in an interesting way (the Siegfried Idyll and to a lesser extent the Wesendock lieder excepted, of course). Aimard's placement of his Sonata in A Flat Major between two Liszt pieces (La lugubre gondola I and Nuages gris) brought those impressions into high relief. The takeaway: while in no way bad to listen to, Wagner's small bore pieces come off more or less like a Wagner-highlight CD, lots of unbearable priddiness and heaving, but very little of the magic that makes people really like Wagner. But played with Aimard's severe commitment, Liszt's pieces start to sound a lot like what Wagner's should, and what makes his operas so great--the sense of suspended time, the visceral power of the smallest detail, the reliance on overwhelming atmosphere rather than statement. The other two highlights of the first half was Berg's Piano Sonata No. 1, from which Aimard extracted many beautiful moments, and Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 9, the "Messe Noire". Aimard plays Scriabin with little of the ephemeral, shadowy flavor to be found elsewhere, but what is lost in mysticism is gained in clarity.
The second half was devoted to the Lizst B Minor Sonata--my second hearing this Spring after Kissin's March recital. Where Kissin brought forward the Sonata's emotional sweep, Aimard seems wary of layering too much sentiment on top of this beast, and seemed most at home in its blackest most terrifying moments. Also, the finale was ridiculously impressive. No encores after that, though the audience certainly tried...
Update: Here's Charles Downey and Joe Banno in the Post...

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