Chamber Music In Baden-Baden

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May 062013

I was standing in the snow and wind on top of the local high point, the Merkur (2192 ft.), looking down on the resort town of Baden-Baden, listening while a hiker from the area gave me a geography lesson about the various rock formations and the geothermal activity that keeps the town clear even when the mountain and the surrounding area are covered in snow.

The attraction of Baden-Baden during the week before Easter 2013 was certainly not the weather – the fact that the town was clear of snow didn’t help with the air temperature, the wind, or the unchanging cloud cover – nor was it any of the other reasons the town appeals to tourists: the hot-spring spas, the casino, the picturesque setting in the Black Forest, the history of the town as a resort for the Russian aristocracy, the haunts of Dostoevsky and Turgenev. It was instead the first appearance of the Berlin Philharmonic as the resident orchestra for the Easter Festival.

The premier events in the evenings were gala affairs marked by media presence, luxury busses from 5-star resorts, and flamboyant displays of PETA-defiant fur coats. The brochure included its share of hyperbolic copy – one concert was billed as “Two Titans”, the pianist Krystian Zimerman and the conductor Simon Rattle presumably battling it out over the Brahms First Piano Concerto.

Musically of equal interest to the monumental offerings in the Festspielhaus – the Mahler Second Symphony, the Bruckner Ninth, the Magic Flute – was the Chamber Music Series. Members of the Berlin Philharmonic gave 14 concerts in all, for the most part two concerts each day, each lasting approximately an hour. The concerts took place in various small venues about town: the Stiftskirche, the “Florentine Hall” in the casino, the Frieder Burda Art Museum designed by Richard Meier, the 19th century theater for which Berlioz wrote his opera “Béatrice et Bénédict”, the “Orangerie” of one of the big resort hotels. For the audience these concerts were a chance to hear first-rate instrumentalists up close, for the members of the Philharmonic, different for each concert, they were a chance to put musicality and individuality on display. The musicians were uniformly at ease: from the delight of the violist Máté Szűcs, who smiled throughout his entire performance, to the charm of the violinist Alessandro Capone, who directed the “Melodie” of Tchaikovsky to two sisters, 6 and 8, sitting in the first row in their Easter ribbons.

Even though the level of musicianship was very high throughout – I heard all of the chamber music concerts in what amounted to a festival within a festival – some players especially were in their element in chamber music. Their freedom in a more intimate setting was striking in its contrast to the uniformity called for by their roles in the orchestra, brilliant as it is under Simon Rattle. Particularly noteworthy were:

The lyricism of the cellist Christoph Igelbrink in the Larghetto of Dvorak’s “American” Quartet in F-major, Op.96.

The flexibility of cellist David Riniker in the Mozart Divertimento in E-flat, K563, particularly in the Adagio, one of  Mozart’s most profound and forward-looking slow movements.

The virtuousity of bassist Edicson Ruiz, a young man from Venezuela who is a product of El Sistema. He played a knotty and brilliant contemporary solo piece written for him by Heinz Holliger.

The purity of tone and perfect blending of four trombones in the Dowland “Book of Songs”, which Christhard Gössling, Olaf Ott, Thomas Leyendecker, and Jesper Busk Sorensen played in the historic Stiftskirche.

The otherworldliness of the duet between the first violin, Daishin Kashimoto, and the clarinet, Wenzel Fuchs, in the Adagio of the Schubert Octet.

The expressiveness of the clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer in the Brahms clarinet quintet in b-minor Op. 115.

As a bonus to those of us who are annoyed by the various and numerous disruptions in the concert hall, in these chamber music concerts, which were attended by an international audience, no one came in late, there was no clapping between movements, no talking in the audience, and only one cell phone incident in the entire week – even without any of the customary hectoring reminders.

Lost and Found

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Feb 122013

525px-LostThis season I’ve heard a fair amount of chamber music, including concerts at the UCLA Clark Library, Cal Tech, the Colburn Music School, and all of the concerts in the Chamber Music Series of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

What strikes me at mid-season is just how hard it is to get the balance right between the instruments, especially when it comes to the viola, an instrument which to my ears is frequently underplayed.

As often happens it is the exceptions that lead to insights. Lawrence Dutton of the Emerson Quartet in the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 12 at Cal Tech and Dana Hansen of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the Bartok String Quartet No. 1 both played with an assertiveness that kept the viola parts, even in an accompanying role, from fading into the background. Their playing enfranchised the viola so that it could stand its ground between the more piercing quality of the violins and the more substantial sound of the cello. Without this assertiveness in the viola a string quartet sounds top-heavy and the opportunity for an interchange of equals is lost.

On January 27, 2013 I went to the Honors Recital at the Colburn School in Los Angeles ( The school already puts on an excellent Chamber Music Series with faculty (including visiting artists such as the Ebène Quartet) and advanced conservatory students but the Honors Recital is different in that it features pre-college age students in a mixed program.

Because the selections were so interesting and the level of playing was so high I am including the entire program:

Brass Quintet No. 1, Op. 5 in b-flat minor (1890) by Victor Ewald

Eli Brown, trumpet (age 17)

Sean Whitworth, trumpet (age 17)

Steve Harmon, horn (age 18)

Liam Wilt, trombone (age 18)

Jon Forsander, tuba (age 17)


Sonata in d minor, Op. 27, No. 3 “Ballade” (1923) by Eugène Ysaÿe

Geneva Lewis, violin (age 14)


Cantabile et Presto (1904) by Georges Enesco

Michelle Sung, flute (age 17)

Roberta Garten, piano


Sonata, Op. 26 (1949) by Samuel Barber

Nicholas Mendez, piano (age 13)


Concerto No. 3 in b minor, Op. 61 (1880) by Camille Saint-Saëns

Mina Hong, violin (age 18)

Anton Smirnov, piano


Concerto for Viola (1928-29; revised 1961) by William Walton

Benjamin Penzner, viola (age 17)

Roberta Garten, piano


Preludes 1-3 (1926) by George Gershwin

Ho Joon Kim, piano (age 13)


Caprice basque (1881) by Pablo de Sarasate

Kristina Zlatareva, violin (age 19)

Sarah Yong, piano


String Quartet in F major (1902-03) by Maurice Ravel

Adam Millstein, violin (age 17)

Anna Vosbigian, violin (age 17)

Benjamin Penzner, viola (age 17)

Dustin Seo, cello (age 17)

I’m reluctant to single out a single player but if I return to the viola I’ve got to say that the young man, Benjamin Penzner, who played the Andante comodo of the Walton Viola Concerto is already at age 17 an accomplished violist. His playing had the qualities I’ve recently been straining to hear.

As I mentioned in my previous post, The Double, it is very worthwhile to follow the Performances page of the Colburn School’s website. In fact, there are even more events that you can learn about by subscribing to their email update service. For example, here’s an excerpt from the latest email; it announces a performance by the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts piano trio, which includes Geneva Lewis, who played the Ballade for solo violin by Ysaÿe so marvelously in the Honors Recital.

The Colburn Community School of Performing Arts piano trio, Geneva Lewis (violin), Rochelle Lewis (cello) and Katelyn Vahala (piano) placed second in the Junior Chamber Music Competition and will be performing at LACMA on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 6 pm.

You can see the official notice of the event under the Programs page of the website for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (

The Double

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Feb 052013

Double_sens 512Recently I heard the Brahms Piano Sonata #3 in f minor, Op. 5 twice in the same week. The contrast between the two performances and between the general atmosphere in the two concert halls could not have been more stark.

On Wed. Jan 30, 2013 Yefim Bronfman led off with the Brahms Sonata in his recital at Disney Hall. At the end of the first movement someone in the Orchestra section of the already restive audience broke into a coughing fit. Bronfman paused for a moment without looking up from the piano but then turned towards the audience when the coughing did not stop. The audience misread Bronfman’s gesture as a “pause for applause” and delivered a response that was widespread but desultory. This pattern of unenthusiastic applause repeated itself after every inner movement even though Bronfman never again looked up from the piano. I thought the audience should have expressed a lack of enthusiasm at the end of the piece also, as such a response would have been more in keeping with Bronfman’s thoroughly perfunctory performance, but the technically formidable last movement inspired the predictable outburst.

Two days later I heard John Perry, Professor of Piano at the Colburn Conservatory of Music and also at USC’s Thornton School of Music, play the same Brahms Sonata in a Faculty Recital in Zipper Hall at the Colburn School, diagonally across the street from Disney Hall.

Everything about this recital was inspiring. The audience included many past and present students of Prof. Perry, faculty members from the Colburn School, and music teachers from all over Los Angeles. The audience was wildly enthusiastic, particularly at the end of the concert, when they only grudgingly let Prof. Perry make his final exit. Between the movements of each piece – silence – which I take as an endorsement of what the performers in the audience would want for their own recitals. Prof. Perry played the Brahms with a rare combination of musicality and insight; the Andante espressivo was model of balance between patience, as he generously let the sonorities sink in, and forward motion.

It’s hard for me to confine myself to the Brahms. It was a privilege to hear Prof. Perry play Ondine from Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit as an encore. As a technical display this piece can be quite boring; in Prof. Perry’s hands Ravel’s imagination for sound and structure came alive.

This memorable concert is another example of the excellent music making that can be heard in Los Angeles outside of the major venues. I have already mentioned the Southern California Junior Bach Festival in another post. I would also recommend the Events calendar of the Colburn School at; in addition to the Faculty Recitals they offer an excellent Chamber Music Series as well as other concerts throughout the year.

Respect for Chamber Music

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Dec 222012

400px-RESPECT_Bus_manchesterHere is a copy of a letter I recently sent to the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times:

After the most recent concert in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Music Series this past Tuesday (12/11) I looked for a review in the Los Angeles Times. When I didn’t find one it occurred to me none of the concerts in the series has been reviewed. I wonder why not.

The people who plan the programs at the LA Philharmonic rightly regard chamber music as an important component of their offerings at Disney Hall. Beyond the fact that the music is significant in its own right, the series offers members of the LA Philharmonic a chance to perform in a setting in which their individual contributions stand out. Variety is built into the format: different orchestra members perform each piece of a given program.

From the level of concentration and preparation that the musicians bring to these performances it is obvious that they take the opportunity to play chamber music seriously. These concerts deserve the recognition that comes with a review.


 Side-by-side comparisons  Comments Off on Apprenticeship
Nov 302012

Amedeo_Modigliani_-_The_Young_Apprentice_-_Google_Art_Project x256Recently a friend, a lapsed subscriber to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, asked me whether he should hear Gustavo Dudamel conduct the orchestra. “By all means”, I answered, “but you have to adjust your expectations”. I added this qualification because Dudamel was talented and fortunate enough to rocket to the leadership of a major orchestra without really having gone through an apprenticeship.

As I told my friend, I was reminded of a DVD I saw recently about the career of the conductor Günter Wand (Günter Wand: My Life, My Music). In addition to the first part of the DVD, which is an informative introduction to a major conductor who is not well known in the United States, there is a second part which consists of a long interview with Wand’s biographer, Wolfgang Seifert. As the interviewer and Wand reviewed his career two things stood out to me:

First is the place, length, and character of his apprenticeship. From 1934 to 1938 Wand went to work as the “assistant conductor for Operetta” in the provincial theater in Allenstein, now Olstyn in the northeast corner of Poland, separated from the rest of Germany at that time by the “Polish Corridor”.

It’s hard to imagine the equivalent conditions for a young conductor today. Part of this is fortunate: Wand’s prospects were limited because he was not a Nazi Party member. But he clearly made the most of the adversity: in the interview he speaks with real fondness of his work in the provincial theater, where the repertoire consisted of Operetta and Spieloper (light opera with spoken dialog) and where he had only about 25 professional musicians to work with; the orchestra was supplemented by military musicians from the local garrison. But, as he says, “it was possible to make very decent music“ there and he earned a reputation because he was “smitten with theater work”.

Second is the time Wand spent in Cologne during World War II. He describes a life of musical asceticism: “there was no radio as we know it today and there were no recordings to buy”; “I had to work out Beethoven’s symphonies as well as Mozart and Bruckner – everything by myself  . . . from the scores.” Again, it’s fortunate that young conductors are not subject to wartime conditions. But there’s no doubt that Günter Wand benefitted from close study of the scores in relative isolation under circumstances which would tend to concentrate the mind.

In Los Angeles Gustavo Dudamel is on a major stage under bright lights when he might otherwise be spending time as an apprentice. It’s to be expected that it shows. In spite of such grandiose offerings as the “Mahler Project” and in spite of his exuberance and that of his audience he really is a work in progress.

Bach lives in Southern California

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Oct 042012

Gedenktafel_Markt_18_(Weimar)_Johann_Sebastian_BachGreat musical experiences are not limited to major venues, major orchestras, major soloists.

This is not to denigrate high-profile concerts, which give us a chance to dress up and spend a festive evening out, and which sometimes come with with huge musical rewards – but there are gems of a different sort out there in the local musical community.

Here in the Los Angeles area we have the Southern California Junior Bach Festival ( for students of strings, woodwinds, voice, organ, and keyboard, which takes place every year in three adjudicated stages between April and October. The Keyboard category, for students under age 19, attracts the greatest number of entrants.

The final stage, which for 2012 took place on Sept. 30, 2012 at Cal State Long Beach, is called the Complete Works Audition. Students who reach this stage are of course highly prepared and highly motivated. It is often possible to see and hear the influence of ambitious teachers and overbearing parents but you will also hear some students who are far from being wind-up toys or robots under remote control, students whose irrepressible innate musicality has been both nurtured and guided.

The Complete Works Audition lasts an entire day, and because the various categories, e.g. French Suites, WTC Book I, WTC Book II, etc., run in parallel sessions, it is not possible to hear everything. Except for the quite pleasant Daniel Recital Hall the closely-connected venues can be spare but admission to all sessions is free and you will hear often competent, sometimes even moving performances.

Since this a competition there is a great deal at stake for the students, parents, and teachers. But regardless of the final results (see my post about the Truncated Competition Society) it can be very rewarding, even uplifting, to talk to the students and parents and to let the students know that they have actually communicated with their audience. For the students this can be something of a surprise or bewilderment since their entire focus has been on practice and performance in a world circumscribed by parents and teachers.

The first-place winners in the various categories play in the Complete Works Audition Awards Concert, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 607 E. Third Street (at Atlantic Ave.) in Long Beach on October 13.

It is well worth spending time to hear these young students before they go off in other directions or are polished into uniformity by the conservatory system. The way they play now in the Bach Festival is at least evidence of the health of classical music education and at most an inspiration.


 Performances  Comments Off on Breakout
Sep 172012

512px-Alcatraz_Island_-_prison_cellsRecently in the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall I watched a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 with Andris Nelsons as the guest conductor. The way that Stefan Dohr, the Principal Horn, played the solo at the beginning of the second movement changed the way I think about Tchaikovsky.

The Digital Concert Hall ( is a fee-based subscription service for access to internet broadcasts of live events as well as an on-demand archive. The archive includes numerous broadcasts of the orchestra with Simon Rattle, the current conductor, various guest conductors and soloists, and also of Claudio Abbado, the previous conductor. At about $185 per year the cost is similar to a single evening out for two at Disney Hall and with a little bit of technology you can display the internet broadcasts on your big-screen TV.

It’s interesting to hear conductors other than Simon Rattle direct the Berlin Philharmonic. In the first movement of the Tchaikovsky I thought Nelsons was struggling to make sense of the score but then, in the horn solo after the introduction to the second movement by the strings, magic happened.

Stefan Dohr immediately brought the piece to life with his subdued statement of the main theme, which he drew out of the horn in the supplest way imaginable.  A virtuoso performance in the best sense of the word, maintained throughout the dialog between the horn and the clarinet, then the oboe, with the collaboration of Principal Clarinet Wenzel Fuchs and Principal Oboe Jonathan Kelley.

Now you may listen to this same performance and think it’s just another horn solo. But somewhere, sometime, with some piece, you’ll hear someone with a level of imagination for sound that just might cause you to reevaluate the piece, the composer, your own prejudices.

The Tchaikovsky 5th is the very definition of a “war horse” and without Dohr’s solo the piece would have faded again into the background. But what he gave us was both liberating and sobering: liberating because it made me wonder how many other moments in Tchaikovsky could be brought to life, and sobering because it was a reminder of our limitations.

Recently a friend mentioned that she’d been to a concert where a contemporary composer questioned why we continue to perform the same pieces by Beethoven over and over. Without thinking I responded: “because we can’t ever get them right” – but with a master like Stefan Dohr we sometimes get to hear what a piece can sound like when it is done “right”.

The Truncated Competition Society

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Aug 302012

800px-Closeup_of_protesters_at_Ginowan_protests_2009-11-08In any music competition our attention is focused on the announcement of the winners and just before that on the final round which leads into the jury’s deliberations. Of course the results are of extreme interest to the competitors who made it into the final round – their placing can give them wished-for and needed exposure.

But to a member of the audience who wants to hear talented and well-prepared young musicians there is a better way: go to the first round, hear all of the competitors, and then go home. Some competitions encourage deviations from this pattern: the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition ( and the Cleveland International Piano Competition (, for example, give all competitors a chance to play in both the first and second rounds, a structure much favored by the competitors themselves. But it is more common to start with about 25 to 30 competitors in the first round with a single cut to each subsequent round until there are six remaining in the final round (for example, the Cliburn Competition, the International Tchaikovsky Competition, and the Queen Elisabeth Competition are all this way).

From a musical point of view the advantage of hearing all of the competitors should be clear: you can’t expect to agree with the judges’ selections anyway (they certainly don’t agree with each other) so you’re better off hearing everyone. In this way you just might hear someone whom you consider to be interestingly eccentric or poetic but who would never fit the consensus mold of a competition performer.

There are downsides: it takes more time to hear 30 competitors, in piano competitions you’ll hear a lot of Liszt and very little Mozart (Liszt being the safer choice since it’s almost impossible to play his music in bad taste), sometimes you’ll know after 30 seconds that someone is unmusical, misguided, or immature. But advantages are overwhelming: in addition to those mentioned above the first rounds are typically much less expensive than the subsequent rounds, they are lightly attended and so offer fewer distractions, and there is always an opportunity to meet the competitors and complement someone you think has played exceptionally well.

Question Authority

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Aug 182012

What is the value of a classical music review?

In May of this year I opened the Los Angeles Times to a review of a concert by the New York Philharmonic I had just attended and was pleased that my very positive impression lined up with that of Mark Swed, the newspaper’s unquestionably professional music critic.

Reviews certainly have a public function: they’re one of the rituals that are part of concert-going – the glossy brochures that come out at the beginning of the season, the persistent yet polite phone calls from the LA Philharmonic, the actual events with their varying levels of decorum, the now obligatory standing ovations, and then the evaluations by one of our local reviewers. When I agree I can enjoy the public validation of my judgment by a voice of authority.

What exactly does it mean to agree?

Primarily it means that I have to buy into the highly metaphorical language that is characteristic of the genre of music reviews.  For example,

“. . . the New York Philharmonic also brought along its own staggering sound.”

“What the orchestra really packed for Disney . . . was its capacity to deliver a considerable punch.”

“The New York press has taken to Gilbert, pleased that clarity and substance, not flash, have been given priority at the orchestra.”

I might use metaphors like these myself, or, because Mark Swed is a professional writer, his may be more apt or eloquent than mine. That’s part of the pleasure of agreeing with a review – it’s akin to the feeling you get when you read a novel set in your home town, especially when you feel the author got the details right – you admire the author’s skillful evocation of the familiar.

Sometimes with a wince I accept extended and fanciful metaphors as long as they don’t detract from the general feeling of concord:

“He’s got a thoroughbred orchestra at his disposal, and he’s learned to ride it magnificently. He jumped on the Dvorak and took off. Tchaikovsky’s morose symphonic fracas with fate became all blazing saddles.”

“. . . It has a steely sound that does indeed conjure up skyscrapers. It’s got a power and ferocity epitomizing pushy urban energy.”

With respect to this particular concert I even agreed when Mark Swed implied a lack of subtlety on the part Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, although I had to set aside the clichéd reference to the baring of Tchaikovsky’s soul:

“There was certainly excitement in the air. It was fun to follow darting instrumental lines in the Tchaikovsky. The scores didn’t sound particularly new or fresh, just brilliant. Tchaikovsky’s soul was not bared. Everything felt kept at arms’ length.”

But what happens if we don’t agree?

Here’s an excerpt from Mark Swed’s review of a recital by the pianist Andras Schiff:

“As a Beethovenian mountaineer, Schiff overcame obstacles with assurance. His balance was unshakable. Beethoven wrote nothing this pianist’s fingers couldn’t negotiate with grace and force. He climbed not only as athlete but also as poet and scientist. He had microscope in hand to savor details. He had with him the highest-pixel camera on the market with the best wide- angle lens, and he knew how to use it for capturing a sweeping landscape.

When the peaks were high and the terrain rough, he raced up cliffs like Spider-Man, without stopping for oxygen. When the atmosphere became too rarefied for human lungs, as it did in the last three sonatas Wednesday, Schiff did not become lightheaded. But he did levitate.

And yet, this cycle was less a physical journey than a growing process. The landscape didn’t change as much as the listener’s psyche. None of us — and that includes Schiff — was the same person before and after.”

I’d like to make it clear in discussing this review that I have no intention of denigrating Mark Swed’s ability to hear perceptively and write as a professional critic. I’m interested in whether metaphors like these can be used as tools of persuasion. In this particular case, since I got nothing at all out of Schiff’s Beethoven, the question is: can the kind of language Mark Swed deployed in the review convince me otherwise?

I would argue that it’s not possible, that the language of music reviews is inherently incapable of altering our judgments. Certainly from experience I can say that no critic has every changed my mind by the metaphors he has packed into a review.

I believe the absence of an effective rhetorical arsenal cripples music reviews. Maybe I can explain this by way of contrast since I’ve often changed my mind after reading a review of a novel.  I suspect the reason has to do with the implied relationships that exist in a novel between characters, events, and settings and between the book itself and other works of fiction. The job of the critic is to make these implications explicit. Through inattention, insufficient background, lack of insight, general sloth I miss the implications of a great deal of what I read but the critic comes to my aid and convinces me of the value of the work.

With music, however, the question of meaning and implication is profoundly murky and best left to someone like the philosopher Roger Scruton in his formidable but readable Aesthetics of Music. A newspaper review simply cannot take on this burden. Further, when we read a music review we can’t retrieve the primary experience of actually listening – there’s no equivalent of looking into a novel to check a critic’s assertions.

So what are we left with? Is there any predictive value to music reviews? There may be: if I agree with my local reviewer (or any reviewer) a large percentage of the time then I can be reasonably certain that I can accept his recommendation of a performer I’ve never heard. But of course it’s the “large percentage” that is problematical; for me it represents a consistency of agreement I have never experienced.

All we can do is give up on authority and turn to the great leveler – YouTube, where we can listen side-by-side to different performances of the same piece – say, Rossini’s overture to The Thieving Magpie as conducted by Gustavo Dudamel and Claudio Abbado – and make up our own minds.


Fugue falling down stairs

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Aug 052012


The spaciousness of Glenn Gould’s performance of the Andante from Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 7 (see the previous Post) brings to mind Artur Schnabel’s performance of the Adagio of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata, Op. 106. (Artur Schnabel – Beethoven Op. 106 at 11:30).

Schnabel plays the Adagio in a way that is consistent with the revolutionary and forward-looking nature of the entire piece and with his reading of the outer movements. It’s well known that Schnabel insisted on playing the first movement according to Beethoven’s metronome marking; in his headlong assault not only does he avoid the ponderousness that drains the movement of energy at a slower tempo, he captures the qualities of urgency and abandon that Beethoven put into this movement.

In the Adagio Schnabel is particularly sensitive to registration; when the outer voices are widely separated he adjusts the balance so that both are always clearly heard. Extreme separation is a characteristic of this movement and a new way of deploying sound; the sheer spaciousness gives the movement an abstract quality and is one of Beethoven’s revolutionary additions to the sonic landscape.

When it comes to the fugue of the Hammerklavier (which starts at 32:09 in the YouTube performance) it is a commonplace to criticize Schnabel’s playing with mock or real horror. But I believe that his playing is defensible in the context of his approach to the entire piece. Schnabel apprehended Beethoven’s Expressionistic rendering of a fugue and played it as such. The bold smearing of contrapuntal motives is completely in keeping with Beethoven’s dissonant and free adaptation of the fugal form in this movement, which he marks modestly as “Fuga a tre voci, con alcune licenze”, “with some license”.

I don’t want to make too much a point of this but the fact that Schnabel was active during the time of the major movements in early 20th century art, Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, must have prepared him to hear and play the extremes that Beethoven put into Op. 106.

Against this backdrop, but in view of the fact that Schnabel really does drop a lot of notes and in deference to the measured pace of Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.”, perhaps it’s more fitting to think of Schnabel’s version of the last movement of the Hammerklavier as “Fugue falling down stairs”.