Friday, April 17, 2009

Live Beethoven

I don't usually write reviews of concerts I attend; I'm not a music critic. But I attended a concert of the Oakland East Bay Symphony tonight, and I have to talk about this.

The concert ended with the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, op. 15, with Sara Buechner at the piano. It had been a good concert - a rousing Russian Easter Overture, a lively Petrouchka, a new piece from a young composer. But the Beethoven was - amazing. Sara Buechner played the piano like no one I've ever heard - her playing was crystalline, and yet strong. The piano sounded so light that at first I thought it was a
fortepiano, and then I remembered two things:

One, Beethoven didn't use the
fortepiano; in fact, Beethoven is largely responsible for the modern concert grand.

Two, I've never heard a Beethoven piano concerto performed live before (really!). I've only heard recordings. And on recordings, they over-mike the piano to make it sound more "muscular." This is what the real thing sounds like - I just didn't realize it.

Frankly, I thought the performance was pretty close to perfect, although Maestro Morgan took the first movement a little slower than the recording I'm used to; but once he got into it, the first movement sounded wonderful, and the precision of the piano took over.
And the third movement just ripped - I thought it would take the roof off the hall! That's why you go to live performances, in fact; you go to hear events like this - and it'll never be available on CD. The OEBS doesn't usually cut CDs. But it got a five-curtain-call standing ovation, from an audience that hadn't come to its feet all evening; and I ran into one of the French horn players after the concert, and he thought it was brilliant too.

Brava, Ms. Buechner! Brava!


  1. As a budding classical music fan in my adolescence, I was astonished at how different the same piece of music could sound played by different players. Often, my first experience of a piece would be "controlling" in that I had trouble appreciating other versions, all of which would sound like slightly "wrong" interpretations.

    Hearing a performance live is a special experience, but by no means controlling in terms of quality and depth. I never had the opportunity to hear Glenn Gould play (not many people alive today did), but once you've heard him play Bach, it sort of ruins you for all the other people who essay his keyboard works.

    I remember how astonished and awed I was when I heard the correct original version of Copland's Appalachian Spring. Its original scoring was for just a small gathering of players, unlike the fully worked-up version for big orchestra. The clarity of the individual voices was so much more powerful at this pure, stripped-down level!

    Performance. When Horowitz returned to the stage after decades of retirement, his New York performances simply blew audiences away. He made dozens of errors, but it didn't seem to matter; the intensity, the pacing, the "speaking" of the individual tonal voices was so limpid and precise, it was like hearing the pieces for the first time, or in a new way.

    Beethoven can fool you. People often mistake the compositions from his earlier period as being faux-Mozart. If any composer has ever written anything close to the Appassionata, I'm not aware of it.

  2. We are lucky that even out here in SW Missouri we an occasionally get to some great professional performances that are brought out here by a group called ProMusica. Our oldest even got to sit and play on a harpsicord because of a friendly performer, something she will never forget.