Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
BIS takes over from Avie presenting Andreas Haefliger’s ongoing (albeit slowly unfolding) Perspectives releases, a series that encompasses intelligent and often unexpected juxtapositions of mixed repertoire. As with its predecessors, Volume 7 features one Beethoven sonata. Haefliger’s careful phrasing and attention to voice leading makes a case for his muted and reflective way with Op. 101’s first movement, although he undermines the music’s undercurrents of energy and subito dynamics. At first the gnarly march movement seems dynamically constricted, yet the obsessive dotted rhythms gather momentum through Haefliger’s spot-on balances, pointed articulation of trills, and attention to transitional passages; it’s closer to Wilhelm Kempff’s caustic perception than, say, the nervous tension of Ernst Levy or the best of Vladimir Horowitz’s myriad live versions. And the difficult fourth-movement Fugue’s contrapuntal strands take on a woodwind-like character under Haefliger’s agile fingers.
The pianist has obviously lived with and “lived in” Berg’s Sonata for some time. At least that’s the impression he conveys in the exposition, where the primary lines and imitative rejoinders intertwine in relaxed conversation. The thick-textured development section sacrifices headlong urgency for top-to-bottom clarity. Similarly, Haefliger shapes the ebb of lyrical phrases and fluttering birdsong caressingly yet never indulgently in Liszt’s St. Francis Légende No. 1.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition abounds with interesting and illuminating interpretive ideas. For example, Haefliger’s rhetorical underlinings in Gnomus reinforce the music’s menacing yet mysterious character. The third Promenade is not loudly declaimed, but deliberate and reticent. Ritards at phrase endings impart an aptly hesitant quality to the Tuileries’ middle section, and there’s a welcome dramatic specificity in the gradual diminuendo at the end of Bydlo. The Unhatched Chicks ballet is lightning-quick and almost deadpan in the way that Haefliger maintains the tempo throughout the central section: most pianists slightly broaden the tempo.
On the other hand, the pianist softens the intended sting of Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle’s repeated-note sequence. But he resists the temptation to speed through the Limoges marketplace, taking a tempo that allows for the climactic broken chords to clearly register and resonate. However, I miss the final two movements’ potential for dynamism and orchestral impact that thrill me in the recordings by Ashkenazy, Berman, Bronfman, and, of course, the sonically grungy yet interpretively amazing live 1958 Sofia performance by Sviatoslav Richter.
In the end, Haefliger’s mastery, intelligence, and stylistic breadth deserve admiration and respect. I also should mention the concert hall realism of BIS’ engineering , together with this SACD’s unusually generous 86-plus minutes of playing time.
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Recording Details:Album Title: Perspectives 7
Reference Recording: Beethoven Op. 101: Wilhelm Kempff (DG), Berg Op. 1: Mitsuko Uchida (Philips), Mussorgsky Pictures: Bronfman (Sony); Ashkenazy (Decca)
ALBAN BERG: Piano Sonata Op. 1
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major Op. 101
FRANZ LISZT: Légende No. 1
MODEST MUSSORGSKY: Pictures from an Exhibition
- Andreas Haefliger (piano)
- BIS - 2307