Notes and Editorial Reviews
An impressive disc then and the Schumann is up there with the best of them.
Piano Sonata in b.
Lars Vogt (pn)
BERLIN 0300064BC (64:35)
For his latest Berlin Klassik release, Lars Vogt has chosen two reciprocal Romantic masterpieces:
Schumann’s C-Major Fantasy, dedicated to Liszt, and Liszt’s B-Minor Sonata, dedicated to Schumann. Vogt’s interpretation of the B-Minor Sonata is straightforward, objective, and not given to excess. He employs an extraordinarily wide dynamic range, from a barely audible
(yet the outer reaches of the latter are always held in reserve). At first, the approach seems a little too calm, cool, and collected. But as the work progresses, it becomes clear that Vogt’s deeply considered reading achieves its ends more through nuance than force, favoring a lofty Apollonian overview over Dionysian rapture, and evoking a brooding Hamlet rather than a raging Lear. Passionate outbursts are sparing and brief. Yet ultimately this thoughtful conception is extremely effective, drawing on great variety of articulation, crystal clarity of sound, and unambiguous gestures. It leaves a lasting impression of being something considerably more than the sum of its parts. Meanwhile, the parts themselves can be riveting. For instance, the fugue insinuates its course for a good 46 measures without rising above a
sotto voce mezzoforte
, and is all the more menacing for it. From this point on, Vogt’s bracingly strict (though never rigid) rhythmicality and reticent pedaling are key elements underlying the performance’s power. He carefully husbands physical and emotional resources. The wisdom of this strategy is nowhere more evident than at the huge
cadence in F?-Major just before the quietly ruminative coda, as the right-hand tremolo shimmers above ascending octaves in the left, where the effect is all but overwhelming.
Strangely, the sort of arms-length objectivity Vogt employs so successfully in the Liszt lends an uncomfortably noncommittal air to the Schumann Fantasy. Vogt’s healthy sound at the instrument, which seems lean yet rich in the Sonata, becomes noticeably strident and brittle, particularly in the Fantasy’s first movement. Here Vogt’s proclivity for the careful voicing of chords obtrudes in a way that impedes rather than forwards the musical narrative. The technically perilous middle movement sounds so overly cautious that some of its intrinsic robustness is lost. The contemplative final movement evokes the appropriate sense of retrospective repose, though its effect is reduced in the wake of the preceding movements.
In all technical aspects, the recording is excellent. If the Schumann Fantasy falls somewhat short of the brilliance of concept exhibited in the Liszt Sonata, this is nevertheless highly artistic and polished piano playing in thoughtful service of great music.
FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
The logic behind this programme is impeccable: Schumann's C Major Fantasie and Liszt's B Minor Sonata are two of the most significant works in the Romantic repertoire. They are also among the most substantial, especially given the preponderance of small-scale character pieces in the 19
th century. The balance works well in terms of their stature and achievement, but just to complete the symmetry, it turns out that the Schumann work is dedicated to Liszt and the Liszt work to Schumann.
Lars Vogt is an astonishingly versatile pianist. One moment he can be thundering away with huge cascading figures, the next producing a delicate, cantabile melody at a dynamic that is little more than a whisper. And the variety of timbre that he draws from the piano, even at the dynamic extremes really brings this music to life, imparting an almost symphonic spectrum to the range of textures and harmonies. He is a disciplined player, in terms of pedal and rubato, but he never sounds constrained. In fact, that appearance of discipline may have more to do with the coherency of his interpretations than any reserve. The Liszt in particular is pulled around in places, but it never feels inappropriate or arbitrary.
Of the two works, the Schumann receives the finer performance. Another distinguishing feature of Vogt's technique is his ability to make almost any texture crystal clear. That benefits both works, but the Schumann more so than the Liszt. And Vogt is able to make the C Major Fantasie sound like a real event. It is a performance that keeps you guessing, no matter how well you know the work. His interpretive inflections are always slight, a brief caesura here, a slight cadential rit there, it’s all very tasteful. But more importantly, it is also impressively dramatic and rigorously coherent.
The B Minor Sonata is subjected to greater extremes. The opening unison chords set the tone. They are very quiet and very clipped. I suspect that Vogt is trying here to create the maximum possible contrast of dynamics and articulation, meaning that staccato must be very short and pianissimo must be close to imperceptible. The main advantage of this approach is that it gives the listener many opportunities to admire Vogt's techniques at the quietest dynamics, and the sweetness and lyricism he achieves in the quieter passages is exceptional. The more robust music is well played but - with the exception of some very clipped staccato - is not unlike the recordings of many other pianists.
The sound quality is very good, with the piano, the acoustic and the recording technology all working to the favour of Vogt's lyrical yet clear keyboard technique. There is a luminosity about so many of the passages that, while it is no doubt primarily the result of his phenomenal technique, must also rely on some sympathetic sound engineering and piano preparation.
An impressive disc then, and one that finds unexpected connections between two works that would not normally be considered compatible. The reading of the B Minor Sonata is successful and distinctive but far from authoritative. The Schumann, however, is up there with the best of them.
-- Gavin Dixon, MusicWeb International
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