Notes and Editorial Reviews
MARTIN HELMCHEN – LIVE AT VERBIER FESTIVAL (20011
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825
JS Bach - Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, Praludium, S179/R23
Annees de pelerinage, 1st year, Switzerland, S160/R10: No. 4. Au bord d’une source
Trube Wolken (Nuages gris), S199/R78
Vexilla regis prodeunt, S185/R70
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106, “Hammerklavier”
Martin Helmchen, piano
Recorded live from the 18th edition of the Verbier Festival, 23 July 2011
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
notes: English, German, French
Running time: 83 mins No. of DVDs: 1
R E V I E W:
Partita No. 1,
Prelude after Bach’s
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen. Au bord d’une source. Nuages gris. Vexilla Regis prodeunt.
Piano Sonata No. 29 in Bb
Martin Helmchen (pn)
IDEALE AUDIENCE 3079808 (DVD: 83:00)
What a delightfully entertaining musician young Martin Helmchen is! This is an extremely well-rounded pianist, replete with fabulous technique, good taste, and a sense of joy for the music he plays. His Bach is rich and nimble at once, almost operatic in his ability to draw out contrasting theatrical impulses. His dynamic shading, combined with a completely natural sense for the coloristic variety of tonality, makes him something of a throwback. This Bach put me in mind of Wilhelm Kempff, a very high standard, to be sure. Helmchen’s Liszt, in an interesting contrast, is produced with all of these skills, but he resists the temptation to over interpret, choosing sensible tempos and restrained rhythmic control. I found this approach to be highly effective; the music, including some of Liszt’s less-bombastic work for piano, stands on its own strengths, presented with technical skill of the highest order, but no superfluous drama.
It is something of a cliché to say that late Beethoven should be reserved for mature artists, and there are plenty of exceptions to that conceit, but Helmchen probably needs to let the enormous score of the “Hammerklavier” stew for a bit more in his imagination, let alone his very soul. He applies the same tools that make his Bach and Liszt so compelling to this beast, with mixed results. The music is prettified, which is a stylistic misstep. Helmchen seems more interested in avoiding harsh tones than in finding the heart of the music. Beethoven can be brutish, even ugly, in his language. The performer who goes for the spirit of this craggy giant will find that sound naturally in the process. Even in the sprawling slow movement, Helmchen’s tremendous natural attributes lead him down the wrong path; he seems to hear the music in a sensual way, while missing the spiritual vision. He does not rush, yet there is a sense that he wants the music to move along. It is the wrong impulse. The legendary Schnabel sets the standard for the sublimity of Beethoven in this movement, and I was also deeply moved by Garrick Ohlsson’s oceanic view on his recent Bridge release.
Despite my caveats about the Beethoven playing, I enjoyed this DVD immensely, and recommend it highly to any pianophile. The recital is a very nicely recorded and filmed Verbier Festival event from 2011. This is, without a doubt, a major career in the making.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
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