Last night's review of Toronto Summer Music opening concert has left me tormented
Gerstein played beautifully, but I just couldn't agree with what he was doing. There was nothing musicologically wrong with his interpretations, so my criticism really came down to personal taste. Even though concert reviews are as much about the subjective as anything else, I often worry about taking the subjective too far.
So, to better second-guess myself, I decided to consult some dead 20th century masters on the oh-so-difficult second movement of Beethoven's Op. 111 Sonata. The technical issues are one thing, but the real test of the artist is in figuring out what to do with those piles of notes that seemingly go nowhere.
Among my perusings, I listened to three Mid-century Modern pianists because I get the impression that, at the time, every serious classical musician worried about fidelity to the composer's intentions and would consult new scholarly editions of the score to make sure they were doing the right thing.
One obvious reference is Chilean master Claudio Arrau (1903-1991). His main teacher was Martin Krause, who had been taught by Liszt, who had been taught by Czerny, who had been taught by Beethoven (and, now that we have MP3 players, we have all been taught by Beethoven).
One of my favourite personal references is Solomon (British pianist Solomon Cutner, 1902-1988, who had a massive stroke in 1956 that caught him just as he was recording his hugely respected interpretations of all 32 Beethoven Sonatas).
For contrast, I listened to Russian legend Tatiana Nikolayeva (1924-1993), who represents the bolder side of the spectrum.
After all that listening, I feel better about what I wrote last night. Solomon won, yet again -- mixing an elegant, quiet intimacy with a strong sense of narrative flow. As ever, I continue to shake my head in wonder and admiration at how the same black dots can produce such differing results.
In case, like me, you have too much free time, here are Arrau, Nikolayeva (from the Great Hall in Moscow's Conservatory, in 1984) and Solomon playing Beethoven's C-minor Sonata, Op. 111: