by Euan Murdoch
What a treat to spend a weekend immersed in and inspired by Beethoven’s genius at Wigmore Hall. Ten concerts over two days curated by artistic director John Gilhooly with music as diverse as John Cage’s 4’33” of silence and Alban Berg’s dynamic Violin Concerto alongside Bach, Brahms, Haydn, Mozart and of course plenty of Beethoven. I cannot do justice to the breadth and diversity of this festival program that kickstarted Wigmore’s Beethoven celebrations in the lead up to the 250th anniversary of his birth in December 2020. However, I will pick out a few special highlights.
The first all-Beethoven recital featured my favourite cellist Steven Isserlis in partnership with American fortepianist Robert Levin. They played two duo sonatas and a set of variations on a theme by Mozart. In particular, the early Op.5 No.1 sonata showcased the inventiveness and dramatic contrasts of a composer breaking all the rules. These two supreme musicians also took many risks and delighted in the humour and brilliance of the passagework as they exchanged roles of soloist and accompanist.
The two evening concerts had stellar lineups including violinist Carolin Widmann who performed the Berg Violin Concerto brilliantly with chamber orchestra, Škampa Quartet, baritone Benjamin Appl with pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, Michael Collins clarinet and a recent visitor to Australia, pianist Aleksandar Madžar. The whole weekend was capped off by a late-night concert given by the legendary Russian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja. She performed the three last piano sonatas with mastery, intimacy and great intensity.
What a wonderful way of reacquainting myself with the Wigmore experience: a space that is more like a grand drawing room than a concert hall, where the best classical musicians in the world appear night after night in an amazing program that is second to none. I’m excited to celebrate Beethoven’s genius next year in our two remarkable venues with some of the same musicians who were featured at Wigmore Hall.
Next week I head over to Hamburg to select a second Steinway for the Primrose Potter Salon with pianist Piers Lane. No doubt we will test and assess the line-up of pianos available by playing and listening to Beethoven excerpts amongst other works to help select the best instrument. Gradually through a process of trial and elimination, we will settle on just the right piano for this intimate room.
All going well, we will enjoy plenty of Beethoven on the new piano in 2020!