During its current 2019-2020 season, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is commemorating Beethoven’s 250th birthday (which is technically in December 2020, which will be in the CSO’s 2020-2021 season, but who’s quibbling) by programming a staggering number of the composer’s works. I wish I could see them all, but I’m pleased to be off to a decent start. Two weeks ago, Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt kicked off the chamber series, to which I’m a subscriber, by playing Sonata Number 6 for violin and piano. The concert also included sonatas by Shostakovich and Franck. The duo plays together often, and the concert was wonderful. In addition to the chamber series, which promises more Beethoven, I also have tickets to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony next June.
But other opportunities abound and it’s hard for me to resist Sunday afternoon matinees – last Sunday’s recital featured Rudolf Buchbinder, the legendary 72-year-old Austrian pianist, who supplied four of the Beethoven piano sonatas in the season’s quest to showcase the entire cycle of 32 works for solo piano. Beethoven’s piano sonatas are some of my very favorite music; their depth, nuance, originality and virtuosity are staggering. Many players have completed the cycle as a project – Daniel Barenboim has a wonderful production of them available on YouTube, for example.
Buchbinder has completed the project 6 times. His mastery was evident yesterday as he played all of opus 10 – sonatas 5, 6, and 7, completed in 1798, as well as number 3 from Opus 31 – sonata number 18, completed in 1802. He played all four without music. The sonatas require subtlety and power, which Buchbinder supplied in buckets. His style is not showy, but his passion shines through. My favorite movement was the adagio in sonata number five. The slower centers of many of the Beethoven piano sonatas are some of the most profoundly, emotionally full music I know.
While Beethoven’s piano sonatas do generally chart a characteristic fast/slow/fast course, number 5 was the only one to do so yesterday. Number 6 is all fast, and numbers 7 and 18 each contain four movements. The variety of forms contained in the four works kept the program lively – the concert flew by.
I sadly missed the first set of 5 sonatas on a Sunday last month, but I hope to see more. I’d love to see Andras Schiff, for example, and he’s slated to do a few of them on a Sunday next March. I do already have a sincere regret from this season – Leonidas Kavakos did the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the CSO last Thursday.
I guess the good news is that Beethoven’s music isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – I’ll get another chance at the concerto.
Thanks for reading.