Sunday, 29 April 2012

Peter Serkin: Wolpe, Takemitsu, Schoenberg, Beethoven

Some performers are perfectly at ease in the bright acoustic of the Mozart Saal, while others find the exposure intimidating – including, I think, Serkin, whose generally faultless playing belied his shaking hands. Much of the programme was overpedalled and few pianissimos, or even pianos for that matter, were played without the soft pedal. The dampened muddiness reached a somewhat idiosyncratic height in the play of dynamic contrasts in the nineteenth Diabelli variation. Elsewhere more of an obvious or ironicized sense of parody was missing in the Beethoven, which not only spoofs Diabelli in its less reverent moments but also Don Giovanni. The central adagio in the Wolpe, titled ‘Too much suffering in the world’, also seemed rather passive. Much can be made, in Schoenberg’s Suite, of the parody of centuries-old forms using the ahistorical musical language of the twelve-tone method, but Serkin’s interpretation was, again, an irony-free zone and I’m afraid I found it rather ugly and characterless. The best playing of the evening was to be found amid the delicate textures and gentle utterances of the Takemitsu, which, mobile phone excepted, was quite haunting.
Sad to hear Peter Serkin, whose virtues I am well acquainted with, at somewhat less than his best. You can read more here. The ‘suddenly, startlingly’ passage I didn’t write, just to be clear; normally I wouldn’t point these editing things out, but there was a bit of detail here which didn’t make the cut and makes the broader point I’m making look less than articulate. The crummy title, however, I take responsibility for.

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