Alberto Portugheis BPSE St James’s Piccadilly Recital on 27 July 2011

There was a large and enthusiastic audience in attendance at the lunchtime recital given by Alberto Portugheis at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, on 27 July 2011, as part of the regular BPSE lunchtime recital series at one of London’s most imposing architectural and historical venues. Enhanced by the attractive sonorities of the Fazioli grand, Portugheis’ programme featured some gems of the Romantic piano repertoire, projected with stirring energy and emphasis. The opening work was Beethoven’s Sonata in D Op. 28, ‘Pastoral’, projected with bright melodic etching and, even with some generously flexible rubato, many of the surging syncopations received penetrating emphasis, as in the second movement. In contrast to the rather relaxed tempi of the Beethoven sonata, Carl Maria von Weber’s Rondo (Perpetuum Mobile) Op 24 was jet-propelled, Portugheis keeping the flowing, racy passagework apace with fluent virtuosity. Similarly he propelled the elfin textures of Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso in E Op. 14 with delicacy and clarity, contrasting those with the lyrical richness of the theme and pulsating chords, as a type of ‘song without words’, before the intrepid, fleet-fingered coda. In between his gently luminescent rendering of Debussy’s Clair de Lune sustained the limpid yet radiant harmonies in suspense. In the final work, Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, Portugheis found his virtuoso form with bravura and panache, heightening the expressive rubato, lingering on main motifs, and conveying the large scale structure with many felicities of harmonic highlighting, and ever responsive to the dramatic narrative from yearning nostalgia to explosive denouement and climax.
Malcolm Miller (c) 2011

Report on the BPSE Beethoven Diabelli Symposium 28 June 2011 with Stephen Kovacevich and William Kinderman

Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations: A Symposium
Beethoven Piano Society of Europe and Institute of Musical Research (DeNOTE)

11am-6pm, Tuesday 28 June 2011, King’s College, London
A report by Malcolm Miller

Fresh insights, new contexts, and inspiring perspectives were offered at the Symposium on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations Op.120, held in the spacious surrounds of the Great Hall at King’s College, London, which featured as special guest speakers both Stephen Kovacevich and William Kinderman. The action packed programme, which attracted a sizeable audience from 11am until 6pm, featured a keynote lecture, two lecture-recitals, academic papers, an interview and panel discussion, to shed deeper light on one of the most enriching, yet also challenging of Beethoven’s late piano masterpieces. Presented by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe in association with the Institute of Musical Research’s DeNOTE series, it was a special privilege for me, as Editor of the BPSE Journal Arietta and Associate Fellow of IMR, to open the proceedings, and to thank King’s College, London and its Music Faculty for hosting the event, as also to express gratitude to the IMR and BPSE for their full operational support; there followed a very warm welcome from the IMR Director Professor John Irving. The large audience of performers, scholars and music lovers were treated to two extensive opening and closing presentations by William Kinderman, who also contributed to the discussions throughout.

In his opening Keynote lecture ‘Autographs and Sketches: Beethoven’s Diabelli and the New Facsimile Autograph, Kinderman showed some of the pages from the facsimile of Beethoven’s Diabelli autograph newly published by the Beethovenhaus, Bonn (Beethovenhaus Verlag, 2010), to illuminate some of its remarkable discoveries, for instance the fascinating switch from triplet to semiquaver patterns, the crossed out choice of a final C for the ending, in place of the familiar final E, and his accessible explanation on Beethoven’s method of sketching and revising, opened a window onto the creative process.

Beethoven’s unusual notation for double-barlines separating each variation formed the stimulus for a thought-provoking new reading of large scale form by Professor Barry Cooper, Professor at Manchester University, in ‘Structural Implications of the Double Bars in the Autograph of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations’. Correlating analytic interpretations by eleven musicologists, Cooper found a remarkable convergence of opinion on four variations, agreeing with the findings of his barline research; yet it also gave rise to further divergences. In the same session, ‘Source, Models, Precursors’, chaired by Dr Tim Jones (RAM), Professor Cooper’s doctoral students gave impressively researched papers on aspects of influence and pianistic technique. Sian Derry (Manchester) stimulated creative debate by questioning Kinderman’s notion of Cramer as the main model for the ironic Var. 23, underlining the relevance of Beethoven’s many sketches of technical exercises she has researched, which closely map the figurations employed. Especially engaging was the paper on ‘The Viennese Forerunners of the Diabelli Project’ by Erica Buurman (Manchester) about the Viennese aesthetic of serious and light music and the influence of Archduke Rudolf’s own Forty Variations, which appeared prior to the Diabelli, the final fugue of which was performed by the Portuguese pianist Artur Pereira (Manchester).

Adding an appealingly rich historical and stylistic context was the midday lecture-recital by Malcolm Troup, BPSE Chairman, who surveyed some of the fifty ‘also-ran’ variations commissioned by Diabelli by Beethoven’s contemporaries, Liszt and Schubert amongst them, alongside less familiar names such as Sechter, and Tomaschek. Professor Troup’s introductions highlighted pianistic as well as stylistic developments that looked forward to Romantic era, illustrated in his expressive and agile performances.

The afternoon began with a session on ‘Register, Texture and Technique’, in which my own paper ‘View from the Top: High Registral Structures in Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations’ proposed a radical counter narrative for large scale form based on the linear coherence of the uppermost octave. William Kinderman illustrated the analysis which I displayed in a graph format. A categorising study by Matthew Pilcher, ‘Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations: Compendium of Keyboard Techniques and Transformative Textural Processes’, comprised a list of various types of pianistic gestures, with commentary regarding the problem of describing such textures as either harmonic or motivic.

More open discussion ensued in the session of Stephen Kovacevich in Conversation with Alberto Portugheis, in which one of the foremost interpreters of the Diabelli and Beethoven in general, reflected on the differences of his 1968 and 2008 recordings, highlighting the quality of innigkeit (inwardness) he had absorbed from his studies with Dame Myra Hess. In the ensuing panel discussion chaired by Beethoven scholar Nicholas Marston, Kovacevich, alongside Kinderman, Cooper, and the pianist Julian Jacobson, discussed the element of spontaneity, expression, and even obsession in the Diabelli, as well as the performer’s attitude to analysis. During the discussion as also the earlier paper sessions, the audience participated enthusiastically in questions from the floor, and there was ample time to discuss during the lunch and afternoon tea breaks.

A concluding lecture-recital by William Kinderman returned to his earlier comments about Diabelli’s project to commission fifty composers to each write one variation on his famous waltz, and responded to an earlier question by Malcolm Troup about why Beethoven chose to write thirty three, having initially refused to do one. Was the Diabelli a 33rd sonata perhaps? In answering it Kinderman illustrated zestfully in words and at the piano how Schiller and Jean-Paul’s aesthetic ideas, of the balance of the sublime and the earthy, found resonance in Beethoven’s contrasts of expressive, witty, poignant or ironic variations. Performing extracts from the 9th Symphony and the Arietta in Op.111, as well, he showed how Beethoven’s final variation ‘corrects’ the harmonic repetitions of the simple Waltz theme, the famous ‘cobbler’s patch’. Weaving an enthralling tapestry of ideas, his lecture-recital formed an apt climax to a day which afforded a renewed understanding of the creative genius of Beethoven’s late style.

Malcolm Miller (c) 2011

The Stunning Kanazawa Admony PIano Duo Dedicate their London Debut to the Memory of Carola Grindea

It was apt to dedicate the BPSE lunchtime recital, on 13 July 2009 at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, to the memory of Carola Grindea, BPSE co-founder and Vice-Chairman, who died three days earlier, in her tenth decade.

The well-attended concert, by the prize-winning Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo, presented jointly with the Jewish Music Institute, SOAS, was introduced by BPSE Chairman Malcolm Troup, who both welcomed the Duo, whose fame had travelled on before them, and underlined Carola Grindea’s insuperable achievements, in founding, as well as the BPSE, two most significant international organisations, the European Piano Teachers association (EPTA) and the International Society for Study of Tension in Performance (ISSTIP).

The feast of four-hand music, played with virtuoso panache, was certainly an eloquent tribute to Carola Grindea’s lifelong enthusiasm for pianists, piano music and piano pedagogy. The husband and wife duo from Israel launched their programme with the UK premiere of a richly coloured Sonata a Quattro Mani by one of Israel’s leading composers, the octogenarian Yehezkel Braun, present in the audience to acknowledge warm applause. The three movement work was dedicated to Braun’s mentor Alexander Uriah Boskovich (1907-64), a leading pioneer of Israel’s Eastern Mediterranean style, one of whose songs formed the theme of the variation finale.

The seldom played duet version of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge Op.134, in the composer’s own arrangement, formed the formidable centrepiece, given a breath-taking account. It has been described by Charles Rosen as technically “impossible” according to a recent chapter by Robert Winter. The duo’s artful choreography of hand crossings and leaps, and their fine dynamic shading, enabled each subject, countersubject, augmentation and diminution, to emerge with varied emphasis, generating tension and drama. This tour de force was followed by yet another, Mendelssohn’s Allegro Brillante Op. 92, composed in 1841 for the debut of another conjugal ensemble, Robert and Clara Schumann: Exhilarating elfin textures contrasted with poetic colouring in their sparkling account. ‘Le Bal’ from Bizet’s Jeux d’Enfants offered a witty encore. We hope they will soon return to these shores at a major London venue. Fortunately we may, in the meantime, enjoy their Naxos CD of Liszt Symphonic Poems soon to be followed by a CD of Rhapsodies on the Romeo label.
Malcolm Miller (c) 2009