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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Piano music in the light of reason

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An insert in the program brochure, nothing more: Two years ago, when this homage to Shostakovich was planned at the Konzerthaus, no one could have imagined that Russia would trigger a war in Europe, write artistic director Sebastian Nordmann and chief director Christoph Eschenbach. . “But the unthinkable happened. Why? For what?” One would love to know what Dmitri Shostakovich would say about it.

The artist of the evening, Elisabeth Leonskaja, sits down at the grand piano and immediately begins Prokofiev’s five “sarcasms”, whose rustically garish spirit, often played in devilishly high registers, she sympathetically captures. Not a word about the war, and why should all Russian-born musicians now comment on what Putin is doing senselessly? Such statements are even less to be expected from Leonskaya than from others. The “Grand Lady” of piano music, who was born in Soviet Georgia and named “Priestess of Art” there in 2016, speaks through music.

Will-o’-the-wisps on lonely heights

In Shostakovich’s second piano sonata in B minor, written after the death of her teacher Leonid Nikolayev, she vividly embodies the main idea, which alludes to the theme of the invasion of the Leningrad Symphony. In the sadness-soaked Largo of the second movement, the right is lost alone in the highest heights and doesn’t seem to know where she wants to go, while the left plays the accompaniment like dewdrops in the morning.

Indeed, it will be a purely Russian evening, even if Alfred Schnittke saw himself more as a Volga German who sat among all the chairs. In a seven-minute piece, he meditates on the possibilities of a chord that encompasses the twelve tones of the octave and that he slowly builds from scratch.

Finally, Tchaikovsky’s “Great Sonata” Op. 37, which he wrote in the West, at Lake Geneva, takes us back to the supposedly perfect melodious happiness of the 19th century. Leonskaja is not a poet, she spells the tones, she does not want to veil anything in a romantic twilight, but draws back the curtains to bring the music into the light, into the light of reason. He does it resolutely, sometimes harshly, angrily. The sonata rushes to its end in a series of sixteenth notes, which she performs brilliantly.

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