LABELS: René Gailly
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition Winners
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B minor; Piano Sonata in C minor, Hob XVI:20; Süssmayr Variations; Ballade in G minor, Op. 23; Barcarolle, Op. 60
PERFORMER: Laura Mikkola, Markus Groh (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 87 115
‘A great Faustian tone poem, with Gretchen, Faust and Mephistopheles all playing out their archetypal roles of transcendence, redemption and negation’ is how Arrau described the Liszt B minor Sonata. Balancing its contrasts, timing its drama and emotion, unifying its outwardly disparate elements to create a cohesive inner dynamic, have been the breaking of great pianists and the making of unknowns. Neither of these versions scales its heights, though the Brazilian Luiz Carlos de Moura Castro comes closer to offering a genuinely thought-out interpretation. He’s a musical player (as the Consolations show) but a lack of left-hand clarity, over-pedalling, unsettled speeds (edits?) and some disruptively prolonged pauses show up weaknesses which the music does not forgive. Still, his sincerity made me want to listen, his slow conception notwithstanding (the Sonata comes in at 34:53).
Not so Markus Groh, winner of the 1995 Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition. Four minutes quicker, he’s got all the technique, certainly, but, as yet, neither fantasy nor broadness of vision. This is a ‘fast food’ reading, clinically efficient, but soulless and wanting in body (the instrument, too). When he aspires to the magical (the hallowed, Arrau-like ending, for instance) you feel it’s more a case of imitation than conviction. The poised, natural classicism of Laura Mikkola (second prize) may be less physically spectacular but it’s the more preferable musically.
Philips have the modern B minor market largely to themselves, with Brendel thoughtful as always, and Arrau magisterial and questing. It’s Richter though, caught in concert, who takes this music by the jugular, delivering a solar plexus performance impossible to forget. At the speed he sets himself (29:13), the accuracy is daunting, the calms no less. Ates Orga