Monday, 18 November 2013

Shostakovich, and the Hammerklavier

I did not much like Shostakovich's fourth symphony on a first hearing, so yesterday I gave it a second hearing – and still did not like it much. It did not seem to have much depth to it – a lot of posturing and clever writing. Almost certainly not the fault of the talented Vasily Petrenko and the Liverpool Philharmonic. A disappointment. Still, Shostakovich wrote fifteen symphonies and some of them I like very much indeed; you can't win them all.

So on to Ludwig van Beethoven and his Hammerklavier sonata, a work I have struggled to enjoy for many decades as played by Pollini, Gilels, Yudina, Solomon, Schnabel .. and now Igor Levit. The first two movements are fine, but the long, long, long adagio finds my concentration wandering, and the finale sounds pretty bizarre in places, even played by the supreme pianistic gallery above. In his final years Beethoven seems to have wandered off frequently into obscure pastures: the Große Fuge is a wonderfully strange work, but Beethoven's friends were certainly right in persuading him to detach it from the B flat major quartet – if only someone could have persuaded him to abandon the inflated finale of the ninth symphony, an ending that always spoils the fine first three movements for me.

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