Bright Water Flowing...
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Pierre Boulez: Piano Sonata No. 1
Ludwig Van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor ("Appassionata")
Franz Liszt: Excerpts from "Années de Pèlerinage, 3ème année, Aux cypres de la Villa d’Este, No. 1, Les jeux d’eaux a la Villa D’Este”
Maurice Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
As the intermission began, just after the "Appassionata", my companion quietly gasped, ”I think I forgot to breathe… I think those people next to us did too.” Pierre-Laurent Aimard left the audience breathless in his stunning first performance at architect Frank Gehry’s new Disney Hall in Los Angeles. The program and performance seemed explicitly designed for the concert hall. Each was masterfully conceived, modern and romantic, exquisitely proportioned and passionately executed. The clean, bright acoustic offered an exquisite environment for Aimard’s passionate style of performance, that of a consummate intellect and superb musical athlete. The extraneous audience noise, often so obvious and disruptive, was swept away by the speed and passion of the music. Even the deep, rapid silences between sharply articulated notes were left immaculate.
The carefully considered program was perfect for the hall, an admixture of modern and classical beauty, tense and profound but warm and accessible, demanding and delivering a particular breed of perfection- like the straight-grained Douglas fir that panels the walls and billowing ceiling of Disney Hall. The broad range of periods, textures and emotions were bound together by Aimard’s twentieth century, Parisian, Ensemble Intercontemporain trained style of performance.
As one would expect from the master keyboard interpreter and disciple of Pierre Boulez, Aimard’s performance of the 1946 Sonata No. 1 was tense, but utterly confident and accessible. The Boulez was a remarkably apt preparation for an idiosyncratic interpretation of Beethoven’s epic Sonata “Appassionata.” After the break, the picturesque excerpts from Liszt were relaxing, smoother and quieter. Aimard’s highly anticipated presentation of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit closed an evening of immense satisfaction.
The opening slow movement of Boulez’ first piano Sonata seemed to flow like water. Tiny, spiky rivulets leaped down a ravine, as a frozen spring began to thaw. By the end of the piece, the water grew into furious torrents of sound. Aimard’s method was completely natural but precisely controlled. He read from printed music but turned the pages himself. The notes erupted like miniature explosions or shooting stars in a dark sky, like an image from Joan Miró projected live in three dimensions.
The stark twentieth century tone of Boulez distinctly anticipated Aimard’s interpretation of Beethoven. This version of the “Appassionata” was fresh, taut and athletic, not at all a warhorse. The performance was ardently singular, full of tension and fluidity. This was not the expansive and majestic Beethoven of Wilhelm Kempff, or the lyrical and poetic song of Vladimir Ashkenazy. Played from memory, the music was delicate and nuanced at first, but soon the room was on fire. All thoughts were blown out of ones mind; jaws were clenched. There were torrents of arpeggios, tumbling out at blistering speed. The sensation of architecture was definite and formal, but its conception was tight, almost as if the pianist were holding his breath, sprinting along the high wire. This was a very particular, very personal performance of a piece that is rendered more difficult by its familiarity. The spontaneous ovation and impetuous cries of “bravo” were well earned.
The excerpts from Liszt’s "Années de Pèlerinage, 3ème année" proved to be a tonic to the intensity of the previous pieces. They were not played as impressionist miniatures, but flowed easily, cool and soothing to the spirit.
This performance of the beloved Ondine, Gibet, and Scarbo, of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, offered undiscovered glints of sunlight on a sinuous, liquid surface of sound. There were quirky, spiky moments of articulation that were new to me. The tempo gave the impression of a subtle ebb and flow; the silences felt heavier. As in the Beethoven, the finale was torrential.
As an interpreter, Pierre-Laurent Aimard seems a hedgehog, a philosopher who knows one great thing, rather than a fox, who knows many. But like the conductor (as opposed to the composer) Pierre Boulez, Aimard has the talent to focus that vast singular understanding on a startlingly varied repertoire.
Thomas Aujero Small