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Perspectives 5 - Beethoven, Liszt / Andreas Haefliger

Release Date: 01/10/2011 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2239  
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenFranz Liszt
Performer:  Andreas Haefliger
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 29, “Hammerklavier.” LISZT Années de pèlerinage: Suisse Andreas Haefliger (pn) AVIE 2239 (2 CDs: 100:52)

Perspectives , a series of mixed recital recordings by the gifted Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger, began appearing in 2004. Common to them all has been at least one Beethoven sonata, juxtaposed with Read more composers ranging from Bartók and Janá?ek to Adès and Brahms. The fifth installment is now out, happily combining the “Hammerklavier” with the first book of the Années.

From the first stentorian outburst of B?-Major chords announcing the Beethoven, most striking is Haefliger’s beautiful, unforced sound. Another is his extraordinarily deft handling of dynamics that, even in dense polyphonic textures, delineates each line with the subtlest gradation. There’s nothing flat-footed or blunt in the Scherzo, which is fleet, charming, and as close to graceful as this music gets. Traversing the vast expanses of the Adagio sostenuto, attention never flags, so compelling is the heartfelt intimacy of Haefliger’s exquisitely lyrical cantabile playing. And in the fugue, we are spared any sense of an impossibly difficult construct beyond the capacities of all but the most skilled human hands. In Haefliger’s performance, it’s as though we glimpse a circling constellation of celestial bodies, each subject to unique physical laws within its individual orbit, now and again exerting gargantuan gravitational pull, even as the whole system heaves and whirls on its course through the cosmos. As German metaphysical parlance might have it, the mundane is left behind in a yearning toward the sublime. Whatever the relevance, it may be noted that Haefliger’s “Hammerklavier” unfolds during a leisurely 46 minutes. (Schnabel’s 1935 recording lasts almost 41 minutes and Ronald Brautigam’s of 2009 clocks in at about 40, though admittedly Brautigam plays a fortepiano, allowing him to move faster.) Yet the success of Haefliger’s performance is not easy to convey by describing specifics of tempo or by comparison with others. He makes no attempt to tame Beethoven’s wildly manic effusions, nor to de-emphasize those expressive eccentricities that make the “Hammerklavier” at once so magnificent and so peculiar. Beethoven’s quirks are all here, but they aren’t the focus. Haefliger shows us instead the moral earnestness, the formal mastery so secure that it may be forgotten, the serenity achievable only when the last protest of moral outrage has been exhausted, and a love of mankind so profound that the composer’s gaucheries and outrageous affronts were forgiven him during his lifetime (and indeed have been ever since). Ultimately, Haefliger demonstrates the humanity in this least humane of piano pieces with music-making that is a joy to listen to.

But Haefliger’s bona fides relative to Beethoven have long been known. What’s newsworthy here is his Liszt, a composer he’s scarcely recorded until now. If the choice by a Swiss pianist to play the Swiss year of Années de pèlerinage might seem obvious, it is nonetheless apt, and in this case yields rich results. In the Chapel of William Tell , Haefliger’s evocation of distant echoes, using the most precise gradations of dynamic and speed in the tremoli , is positively uncanny. In Au lac de Wallenstadt , scrupulous observance of all Liszt’s pedal markings creates the vision of a lake so placid, its surface might be glass. Exquisite voice-leading and playful rhythmicality conspire in the Pastorale to create a dance that leaves us uncertain if it’s the shepherds or their flocks doing the dancing. Since Horowitz brought the Vallée d’Obermann into vogue during his famous “return” recitals of the mid ’60s, the piece has been so frequently (and often poorly) played that making it sound fresh isn’t easy. Haefliger succeeds, summoning pathos, grandeur, and nobility in a beautifully proportionate and vivid portrait of Senacour’s anguished hero. The aching loneliness of Le Mal du pays , the sparkling refreshment of Au Borde d’une source , the shivering winds and stinging sleet and snow of Orage , the frolicsome Églogue , and the mysteriously distant chimes of Les Cloches de Genève— all are given readings infused with poetry, life, and breath. Moreover, at the end of this spectacular succession of tone-paintings, the final impression is of an immense edifice, a journey completed, a cohesive whole. Of the many recordings of the Années released over the past year, and of the earlier ones, too, this is unqualifiedly among the finest. Let’s hope it will be the first of many recordings of Liszt by this sympathetic and accomplished interpreter.

By almost any measure, it seems to me, Haefliger is one of the most interesting pianists before the public today. Those who have seen his performances, either live or on film, know that his posture at the instrument is erect without being stiff and that his perfectly natural playing is devoid of affectation. Even someone familiar with only the audio recordings realizes that the slightest technical impediment never obtrudes. Haefliger’s trenchant musicality invariably presents a point of view that is original, fresh, and insightful. He is the master—intellectually, emotionally, spiritually—of any music he chooses to share with his audiences. One senses that here is a fully integrated human being, thoroughly modern in outlook yet deeply cultivated, who is quite obviously in love with making-music. Listening to Haefliger, one feels satisfied, enriched, occasionally enlightened, and often grateful. And what more can we ask of a musician?

FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 "Hammerklavier" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Andreas Haefliger (Piano)
Period: Classical 
Written: 1817-1818; Vienna, Austria 
Années de pèlerinage, première année, S 160 "Suisse" by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Andreas Haefliger (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Weimar, Germany 

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