Distinguished Artists’ Beethoven Festival

By Scott MacClelland

ON SUNDAY ALON GOLDSTEIN opened the four-night series of Beethoven sonatas offered via Zoom by Santa Cruz’s Distinguished Artists series. Delivered in fine video and excellent sound, the solo recital was performed at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Goldstein, familiar with obvious artistic justification to local classical fans for his appearances in Santa Cruz and Carmel, gave relaxed spoken introductions to the two Op 27 ‘quasi una fantasia’ sonatas and the Sonata in E-flat ‘Les adieux’. The designation given to the first two, completed in 1801, suggests a more improvisational than architectural character. Goldstein illustrated his comments with snippets at the keyboard. But the smoldering flame of Beethoven was plainly at hand. The Op 27, No 1 (in four movements) uses the composer’s heroic key of E-flat. The second (in three movements and known everywhere as ‘Moonlight’ is in C-sharp minor. Goldstein showed what a powerful difference that key made by playing the opening movement’s broken chords in plain C minor. As polished as his playing of these pieces was, he broke off early in two movements and restarted from the top: no harm done. The ‘Farewell’ sonata, dating from 1910, was Beethoven’s homage to his patron, Archduke Rudolph, who, like most of Vienna’s aristocrats, was fleeing town as Napoleon’s forces marched in. The three movements of the piece are titled: Das Lebewohl, Abwesenheit and Das Wiedersehen (Farewell, Absence and Reunion.) The mood of each is captured in the music. Though some viewers apparently had Zoom technical problems with the sound—or absence thereof—I found this concert most satisfying. Indeed, it reminded of how much I miss hearing live music.

MONDAY EVENING saw the introduction of the cello in a program of two of the five sonatas for that instrument and piano. Tanya Tomkins, playing on gut strings, joined Audrey Vardanega and a Poletti fortepiano for the popular Sonata in A of 1808. For the Sonata in C. Op 102, No 1 of 1815 Vardanega used a Rausch fortepiano. As to the cello, Tomkins displayed great authority, gut strings notwithstanding. (I don’t know if the two musicians used tuning of Beethoven’s time but there was no loss of brilliance from either cello or keyboards.) It should be noted that Beethoven lived across the full span of technological advancement in piano manufacturing. The Poletti is from the era of Mozart, with limited keys and no pedals. The Rausch is much enlarged, including pedals. (The Ira Brilliant Beethoven Center at San Jose State has a piano made in 1827, the year of Beethoven’s death, with a full 88 keys—essentially a modern instrument—and some extra ‘bells and whistles’ for novelty effects.) One could make the case that Beethoven’s early keyboard sonatas all but overwhelmed the fortepianos of that time; Beethoven was the necessity that became the mother of invention. These were excellent readings of the two works, red-blooded and, in the Zoom stream from an intimate room to my own, worthy of a fine cabernet sauvignon. Two recitals remain in this Beethoven series: pianists Jonathan Biss tonight and Garrick Ohlsson tomorrow.