Andreas Haefliger, piano: “Perspectives 5” = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”; LISZT: Annees de Pelerinage: Premier Annee: La Suisse – Avie AV2239 (2 CDs), 46:00; 54:48 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:
Recorded by Andreas Haefliger in La Chaux-Fonds, Switzerland 21-26 July 2011, these two pillars of the keyboard repertory find a common ground in Liszt himself, who presented the Beethoven Sonata No. 29 for the first time in 1836, at the Salle Erard in Paris. The sonata’s massive structure and emotional solemnity impressed both Liszt and Wagner, but no less an entire cadre of musicians who admired its absorption of contrapuntal textures and procedures into a profoundly personal, romantically expressive work.
Haefliger exhibits any number of impressive technical means in his rendition of the opening Allegro, allowing the blustery B-flat chords their due, but carefully pedaling the contrasting tender theme in G Major. Occasionally, Haefliger seems to detach the harmonies so they play off of or collide in a manner one can only term progressive. Colossal curtains of sound alternate with wisps and shards of tone, often liquefying into runs and lyrical minutiae we know from the bagatelles. Rarely has the sonata-form endured such knotty or improvisatory applications at once; and by degrees, we feel an innate response from Liszt in his B Minor Sonata.
The Scherzo reduces the entire first movement to a colorful caricature, again employing procedures that shimmer and briefly explode from various Beethoven miniatures, but here the compression assumes a dark, even sinister affect, something close to Mussorgsky’s catacombs. The descending-third motif that proves ubiquitous in this massive sonata provides a dire trope for the F-sharp Minor Adagio in lugubrious 6/8 time. An eerie march ensues that soon weaves its way into a procession along a personal Calvary, the bass tones rife with passing or sustained anguish. If the music occasionally adumbrates a torment we hear in Mahler, the effect must be intentional. The scope of the music transcends the keyboard, asking of the interpreter a synthesis of effects from chamber music, symphony, and oratorio at once. The glistening theme in high register has detached itself from mortal coils, as though the virtually static music depicted Siddhartha’s moments of deepest contemplation of Atman. The latter pages forecast elements in Schumann’s C Major Fantasy, tolling and even stammering a fierce agony that Haefliger realizes with Stygian restraint.
A tentative toe dips into the Abyss for the Largo that precedes the fugal plummet, Allegro risoluto. Already Beethoven’s chromatic dissonances jar our sensibilities in preparation for the unprecedented three-voice fugue in triple meter whose seven notes suddenly drop off by the interval of a third. The tenths that Beethoven likes to throw at his interpreter give Haefliger little pause. We feel that Haefliger has met Beethoven in the corridors of an existential labyrinth, the musical equivalent of Kafka. Haefliger makes us think that Beethoven has completed Bach’s The Art of Fugue, the cantus firmus arising in the latter part of the movement having evolved into a fearsome exercise in apocalyptic stretti.
Liszt claimed that his Annees responded to his 1830s portrait of Switzerland, the “phenomena of nature and their attendant sights. . .[having] stirred deep emotions in my soul.” Heraldic and bold, the ravishing block chords of La Chapelle de Guillaume Tell easily recall the clarion elements in Beethoven’s Hammerklavier, especially as Haefliger builds his “Perspectives” on sonorous correspondences. The Chapel of William Tell, the Swiss mountains and landscape, indicate that pantheistic ecstasy to which Liszt could dedicate himself without reservation. Waves mixed with the cadence of rowing oars infiltrate Au lac de Wallenstadt, a haunt of Liszt and his consort Marie d’Agoult. Something of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sonata echoes in Liszt’s own Pastorale, from Haefliger a buoyant dance in folk colors. The first of Liszt’s brilliant water pieces, Au bord d’une source anticipates a host of musical pictures from Debussy, Liadov, and Ravel. If Wilhelm Kempff had reigned in this piece, Haefliger here rivals the older master.
Two dark pieces form the heart of the Suisse sojourn: Orage and Vallee d’Obermann. Haefliger takes the cascading chords of the mountain storm on huge swoops, the etude having come to resemble Mazeppa from the Transcendental Etudes. At moments, the progressions in Orage (rev. 1864) resemble the titanic contrary motions we hear in the D Minor Totentanz. “The monochord of the inexorable loneliness of human sorrows,” Liszt proclaimed his Vallee d’Obermann after the epistolary novel by Etienne Pivert de Senancour. Haefliger obviously wants this melancholy study to parallel the Adagio in Beethoven’s Hammerklavier. The score of Liszt’s d’Obermann bears captions from Byron’s Childe Harold that proclaim the one word of the soul is Lightning, a Promethean assertion that Liszt realizes in massive, dark rhetoric whose tumultuous mindscapes leave haunted memories of ephemeral pleasures and enduring hurt.
The triptych that ends the Suisse year opens with a passing homage to Virgil, an Eglogue in alternately jaunty and bubbling sentiments, effortlessly vocal under Haefliger. Le Mal du pays approaches Debussy for harmonic invention, the piece a nocturne almost in the style of declamatory Chopin. Haefliger instills in this exalted meditation a noble melancholy, cautioning that we overlook this gem no more. When Haefliger reads a fermata, it lasts a long time. Les Cloches de Geneve, last of the cycle, reverberates appropriately with bells in repeated notes, elegant and aerial, unlike the dazzling La Campanella. The Geneva bells liquefy into tender droplets and reminiscences. Originally conceived to celebrate the birth of Blandine Liszt, the piece builds to a clarion semi-hymn over descending arpeggios that Haefliger imbues with loving fury. Special piano playing throughout.
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