How to schedule a stay at the Verbier Festival, if you can`t remain up in the southwestern swiss alps during all three weeks, more than hundred concerts, and even more side events?
Either one tries to visit as much events as possible; or decides to focus on one aspect of the music offered. Choosing the second option, this year it shall be solo piano performances. Grigory Sokolov and Evgeny Kissin had already played solo when I arrived, as well as Daniil Trifonov.
Even his chamber music contributions were already presented. Never regret, there were still musicians announced like Joaquín Achúcarro, Sergej Babayan and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.
Joaquin Achúcarro is now 86 years old. Still playing with more than eighty years can bring along certain limits concerning pace homogeneity and dynamical balance. Choosing a Mozart Fantasia and a Adagio to begin with, Achúcarro avoids these risks perfectly and instead displays the other attributes of a very experienced playing: his very own results of a career long pianistic examination between subjective style and tonal balance.
The same principle mostly holds for his then performed Beethoven Sonata nr. 30; although towards the end of the third set the technical limitations show up a little bit, slightly limiting the special experience of Beethovens late, visionary composing style.
The following 24 preludes by Chopin turned out the be a matching compromise. Their virtuoso parts are assessable, letting Achúcarro again presenting a maturity of interpretation reserved to pianists with more than six decades of experience. The chosen encores by Edvard Grieg and Alexander Scriabin summed up the concert in one of these rare moments of musical plaintiveness.
One concert can never be enough to gather every property of a celebrated performer, teacher of Trifonov and constant co-artist of Martha Argerich. Especially if the program solely consists of works by Chopin. It certainly was a masterly performance and the listeners were delighted comme d`habitude. But there is hardly a way to differ his excellent chopinesk touch from the many others that can be heard constantly around the globe.
So the main message this evening was his contentment, at least as honorable as any seamless performance of a virtuoso program. To be part of this very intimate way of musical accomplishment gains all measures of sympathy and definitely lets everyone to wish for many more live performances of Sergej Babayan.
The last concert in these three days was played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, maestro from France in a long term relationship with the Verbier Festival. Due to his masterful recordings of french composers, especially Maurice Ravel, I was very curious to finally hear him live.
He began with a sonata by Joseph Haydn. His wide ranging work stands for its own, and Bavouzet played this Sonata no. 59 with a little hint to his following musical approach: some expressive phrases were pushed to the limit, forming a vertical aspect in the musical development that is usually less associated to the classical era; but on the other side excellently works in live performances.
Therewith Robert Schumanns third sonata was soundly introduced. During the whole piece Bavouzet maintained and even amplified the dynamical variability, with the effect of an almost overwhelming musical output. Schumanns work doubtlessly is of a particular ingenuity, but it tends to leave the hearer exhausted in an suboptimal way.
After the break the concert took the best possible turn. Bavouzet introduced the following Notations pour Piano by Pierre Boulez with some explanatory words. These rare moments of openly speaking pianists on stage always display the remarkable benefits of loosening the traditional concert procedures. They are always informative, limbering and even enhancing the access to what the performer wants to transmit in essential. And to be honest, in this case of Boulez` Notations, the explications were more fruitful than the following performance itself.
As announced by the pianist, the following 3 pieces out of Ravels Miroirs were played without interruption by applause; to render the remarkable anticipation of modern composing in Ravels work. In Oiseaux tristes, Une barque sur l’océan and in Alborada del gracioso Bavouzet sometimes achieved to generate a sound perfectly similar to some phrases in Boulez’ notations. It was a dazzling experience, eventually perfected by Bavouzets complete governing of one of Ravels most original pieces, Alborada del gracioso.
Thereby Bavouzet also lead his main approach to its first climax. I never heard this piece being played with so much rhythmical liberty and such a rigorous touch. And for that reason Bavouzet sometimes seemed to nearly fall out his own recreation; it just made the whole drama perfect.
With the concluding Prokofiev Sonata Bavouzet delivered a stunning, compact and coherent finale. Prokofiev himself commented on and mostly liked all of the previous composers; what provided for an amusing context, but nevertheless didn’t reveal many direct musical references. Prokofiev is and stays the composer with the most characteristic cross connection between beauty and oddity.
Christoph Geissbühler in collaboration with Art-Dialog.