Kuerti delivers memorable Beethoven for Friends of Chamber Music

By Lawrence Budmen

Anton Kuerti performed an all-Beethoven program Thursday night for Friends of Chamber Music.

Anton Kuerti’s ongoing Beethoven cycle has been among the high points of recent concert seasons. The veteran pianist returned to Friends of Chamber Music for another revelatory installment Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church drawing a sizable audience that clearly preferred Kuerti’s patrician music-making to the political polemics of the vice-presidential debate.

The six Bagatelles, Op. 126, were Beethoven’s final solo keyboard works. Far from mere miniature vignettes, these pieces are remarkably quirky and elaborate, abounding in adventurous harmonic and thematic invention. Playing the church’s fine-sounding Bosendorfer grand, Kuerti was in top form, exhibiting the flawless technique and interpretive depth that have made him an icon for piano connoisseurs.

The pianist imbued the slow even-numbered pieces in the cycle with grace and nobility and vividly attacked the surprising twists and eruptions of the faster works. The sudden dissonances in the spirited Allegro of the second bagatelle were tellingly emphasized without disrupting the musical line and the final piece became a mini-etude, Kuerti’s exquisite touch and expansive sonority nearly reaching orchestral richness. A furious dash at the coda capped a masterful performance.

The Sonata No. 32 in C minor hails from Beethoven’s late period, the years of the final string quartets. Like those masterworks, the composer’s last keyboard sonata¬†exudes a sense of mystery, the deaf Beethoven following his own creative impulses without regard to his audience’s predilections or the performer’s comfort zone. Cast in two contrasting movements, the score’s anger and transcendent beauty continue to disrupt expectations of listeners and artists alike.

The tightly-wound fury that Kuerti brought to the opening movement underlined the appassionato of Beethoven’s tempo marking. In the otherworldly Arietta and variations, initial lightness preceded stormy agitation and the exultant beauty of the final variation, Kuerti reaching a peak of sublimity in some of Beethoven’s most austerely beautiful writing. The moment of silence before enthusiastic applause broke out was a tribute to the pianist’s artistry.

The Sonata No. 12 in A-flat, written around the time of the First Symphony, seems comparatively lightweight on the surface but the Marcia funebre of the third movement prefigures the funereal strophes of the Eroica Symphony. Kuerti’s traversal rose majestically, the grounding tread moving ever forward. The seamless minor-key modulations in the opening variations and bold dynamic contrasts in the sprightly sections probed the subtleties beneath the music’s gleaming surface.

Dating from Beethoven’s early years, the Sonata No. 6 in F Major abounds in melodic charm and humor. Kuerti captured the score’s wit and elegance, the hand-crossings of the initial Allegro never disrupting the propulsive energy. Taken at fierce speed, the score’s coda sparkled, the joyous finale of an evening of great performances by an artist of the highest order.

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Fri Oct 12, 2012
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