Review: Haefliger puts his own spin on Beethoven sonata at virtual Aspen Music Fest
Special to the Aspen Times
If Sunday’s single-minded piano recital by Andreas Haefliger looked and felt different from the Aspen Music Festival’s usual Sunday afternoon streamed concerts this summer, that’s because it wasn’t so much a festival recital as a sort of movie premiere.
As the free Sunday presentations are limited to about an hour, the program consisted of one big work, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat major, op. 106, known as the “Hammerklavier.” As Haefliger noted in a video conversation with festival CEO Alan Fletcher early last week, he usually balances this sonata with other expansive works. One of his recitals followed it with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” (which, coincidentally, Nicolai Abduraimov played on the Aug. 2 concert).
What we saw and heard was the music-only part of a project he started after the coronavirus quarantine marooned him in Uri, Switzerland, since March. The finished film, made with an all-Swiss crew, will eventually include commentary, with actual Alpine scenery in the background.
Haefliger’s musical performance brimmed with intelligence, detail and nuance. Clocking in at only 44 minutes (about five minutes less than the usual timing), it favored fairly brisk tempos, even in the long, expressive Adagio sostenuto that stands as one of Beethoven’s most eloquent soliloquies.
The pianist may have avoided indulgence, but the same could not be said of the video director. Haefliger told Fletcher he wanted the video to go beyond simply documenting the performance. He aimed to create an “artwork” that conveyed “what we as the artists feel as we play.” Placing the piano on the stage of the intimate Uri Theatre and shooting from the stage with the empty seats and the lights of the auditorium in the background created a different look, but constant camera motion made my head spin. And it’s hard to fathom how extended views of the piano’s innards add to any sense of a pianist’s feelings.
Better was when the camera simply focused on Haefliger’s hands on the keys, or showed how his face reflected what he wanted to coax from the music.
And that music was riveting. The fanfare-like opening measures did not try to emulate a brass band, but its crisp, tight reading contrasted smoothly with softer repetitions of the themes. Other musical elements seemed to pop out from around a corner, making it all feel fresh. The short scherzo teased out a range of colors in its two-plus minutes. He spun out the long Adagio like a master storyteller regaling us with soft poetry here, clever asides there. It was so fresh and attentive to the close harmonies that at times it almost sounded like a jazz ballad.
The transition to the fugue-infused finale maintained that same feeling, then changed colors with the different keys, harmonies and tempos, and finally burst into an exuberant explosion of virtuosity. This was not show-off stuff, but the work of a musician who has lived with this music for decades until it’s in his bones.
The presentation repeats Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the Virtual Stage on the festival’s web site, and on its YouTube channel.
COMING UP THIS WEEK
If Renée Fleming’s faculty-student showcase Wednesday at 5 p.m. is anything like her master classes in years past, or last week’s extraordinary conversations with soprano Julia Bullock and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, it will definitely be worth catching. Both of Fleming’s videos will be available to watch on demand through the end of the festival Aug. 25.
The season’s final featured concert Sunday at 3 p.m. finds violinist Augustin Hadelich playing music for unaccompanied violin by Bach and Ysaÿe, and providing his own piano accompaniment for Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy. It repeats next Tuesday to conclude the festival’s programming.
Harvey Steiman has been writing about the Aspen Music Festival since the early 1990s. His reviews appear Tuesdays in The Aspen Times.
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Steve’s Guitars will present its 1,000th consecutive live music Friday at 7:30 p.m. on Grassroots TV, featuring a special lineup of performers for the show, including luthier Wally Bacon, who owned the “shop” as Wally’s Music before Standiford bought it from him in 1993.