Brahms / Berg: Piano works - Larderet
Ars Produktion ARS 38 217
Classical - Instrumental
Brahms: Piano Sonata No. 3; Intermezzi, Op. 117
Berg: Piano Sonata
Vincent Larderet (piano)
Review by Adrian Quanjer - August 22, 2016
Some sites mark recordings as ‘reference’. I’m not a great devotee of such markings. Not because of its implied discouragement Vis à Vis all others; no, it is worse, I think it is mind narrowing. If, for instance, only ‘referenced’ pianists were worth listening to, life on earth would be very miserable. And who decides who is? And would their live performances always be the same? Humans are human and - luckily - not a machine producing time and again the same ‘referenced’ product. Moreover, winners of prestigious contests do not always live up to the expectation, whilst others, kicked out in preliminary rounds, do make it in real life.
Opinions, including mine, are subjective and last June’s list of ‘The 25 greatest pianists of all time – as chosen by the presenters of Classic FM’, seems to me as subjective as any other ‘definitive’ list. One can easily take out half (as some attentive readers have suggested) and replace them by other expert’s hobby horses, without diminishing its relative quality. For me, blind tests are often revealing and can lead to totally unexpected results, reason why some experts do not want to participate in such tests for fear of picking ‘the wrong one’; a non-referenced one!
Does, as far as Brahms’ sonatas are concerned, todays ‘reference’ make anyone else less desirable? Shouldn’t think so. There are many more out there who know how to handle Brahms. What to think of Elisabeth Leonskaja, Stephen Kovacevich, Svjatoslav Richter, to name but a few of the ‘old guard’. Why not see it this way: Because tastes differ, choice remains of paramount importance. Reviews are no more than a means of helping people to make up their own mind and not to narrow it.
After years of reviewing I have come across so many amazing ‘no-names’ who’ve got something to say; sometimes differently and sometimes better than vested interests want us to believe. For the young and up-and-coming generation it often is an uphill struggle to be recognized as a respected interpreter (let alone to become a ‘referenced’ one) of Brahms or any other notorious composer. Hosts of young and eminently qualified pianist are competing for a place under the sun. Vincent Larderet is such a pianist. Earlier this year I noted his undeniable Ravel credentials in his recording of both concerti: Ravel: Piano Concerto, Concerto for the left hand, Schmitt - Larderet, Kawka. And now he seeks to evoke our interest for the way he interprets Brahms (and Berg).
Ravel and Brahms have little in common. This made me curious to discover how he, after his successful Ravel recording, would measure up to Brahms. Not just in regard of his robust romantic, third piano Sonata, which obviously is the main item in this ‘mix’, but also to the mature and reflective Intermezzi Op. 117, thereby linking ‘Tradition and Transition’ to Alban Berg’s still conventional Sonata op. 1. To what extent does his reading differ from the more traditional Germanic interpretations? Does he have any wider vision on what he is doing?
As for his chosen programme Larderet says this: “The enormous scale and length of Brahms’ Sonata in F minor symbolizes the pinnacle and apogee of the great romantic sonata tradition in the vein of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. Berg’s sonata on the other hand is a transitional work, marking the end of the Romantic era while pointing into the future.”
As to the interpretation, the major difference probably lies in the fact that Larderet is French. Although he did part of his studies in Germany, his Brahms, technically at par with the rest, is lighter, clearer, and even more playful than, say, Central- and Easter-European pianists’ readings. Delicate perception combined with youthful vigour, needed for this relatively young man’s composition, is all along present. Heavy handedness isn’t in his book. As a possible clue to his way of performing we should keep in mind that his teacher, the Argentine born pianist, Bruno-Leonardo Gelber, known for his sensitive playing, was and still is his idol. (According to an authoritative review B-L Gelber’s recording of Brahms’ third piano sonata “deserve a place at Brahms's high table”). If you like such an approach, Larderet’s certainly is a prime option.
The following three mature Intermezzi Op. 117 are played pensively, reflecting Brahms’ ‘douleur of the soul’. But Larderet expresses the hidden sadness in a more positive sense, which isn’t the same as superficial; it’s a choice. There are exemplary recordings of these and other late Brahms piano compositions around, but I found here much to appreciate, especially in relation to Vincent Larderet’s own vision and personal style. We must be grateful for that, because it gives the listener a wider choice.
Berg’s first sonata is often recorded as a filler in a virtuoso recital. It has, indeed, extremely difficult parts. Not because Berg wanted it to be that way, but rather because of his awkward composing for the piano. From reading Larderet’s liner notes, it is clear that such is not the purpose for including this sonata in his project. On the contrary. What I particularly like in him is that performances, as on this disk, are not just for the sake of performing. There is intellectual thinking behind it, building bridges leading to a wider field of musical appreciation. In that sense Berg (in the revised edition from 1925) becomes functional; it forms an integral part of his vision of creating transition, or a bridge, from romantic to serial music, so à la mode at the beginning of the 20th century in Vienna (Webern, Schönberg). In my view he succeeds in doing so.
Berg’s first attempt on the piano (solo), his only work with an opus number, was his last as well, with the exception of a Kammerkonzert for piano, violin, and 13 winds (1923–5). It was meant to have the required movements, but after finishing the first, so he told his teacher, Arnold Schönberg, he ran out of (further) ideas. It would seem to me that, looking backward to the romantic idiom, all he had to say had been said, and that he, Alban Berg, was now ready for the jump into modernity, the twelve-tone era. Larderet plays this sonata, compressed into one movement, without excessive bravura, hiding, as it were, its technical awkward difficulty, but opening up at the same time a vision of what lies ahead.
The recording was made last July in ARS-Produktion’s preferred haunt, the sonically ideal environment of the Immanuelskirche in Wuppertal, Germany. Under the heading ‘Information’ ARS apologizes for any noises that may be heard because of breathing. I don’t think that it’s such a big deal. It only makes the created suggestion of hearing the recital ‘live’ so much more lifelike.
Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net