Monday 17 October 2022

Esfahani - Scarlatti, 14 October 2022

Queen Elizabeth Hall

Sonatas: in F, Kk.296; in F, Kk.297; in F minor, Kk.466; in F sharp minor, Kk.25; in G minor, Kk.12; in C minor, Kk.11; in F, Kk.6; in F minor, Kk.19; in F, Kk.106; in F, Kk.107; in D minor, Kk.552; in D minor, Kk.553; in C minor, Kk.116; in G, Kk.470; in G, Kk.471; in E minor, Kk.263; in E, Kk.264; in A, Kk.24; in D minor, Kk.32

Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)

One of the first professional concerts I heard—it may even have been the first—was of Scarlatti sonatas on the harpsichord, at the suggestion of my childhood piano teacher, with whom I learned a good few along the way. I cannot now remember who the harpsichordist was and am not even sure of the venue; oddly, I think it may have been Rotherham’s Civic Theatre rather than the Arts Centre (part of a wonderful brutalist complex, since demolished, that included the town’s Central Library from where I borrowed many of my first books and, later, first musical cassettes and scores). Scarlatti loomed relatively large in the early repertoire I was occasionally allowed to try out on my teacher’s spinet. As soon, though, as I started organ lessons in my teens, my adoration for Bach somewhat crowded out contemporaries. Not that I have or had no interest in Scarlatti, Handel, Rameau, Couperin, and many others, but I am reasonably sure I have never been to an all-Scarlatti recital since. I have no idea how I might react today to what I heard as a schoolboy in Rotherham—I assume I am not imagining the whole thing—but I can say that this immersive experience from Mahan Esfahani, performed without an interval, much of it without as much as a break between pieces, was quite a journey on which to be taken.   

Over ninety minutes or so, with a couple of bonus D minor sonatas as encores, Esfahani’s selection covered a broad range, whilst still of course only encompassing a small proportion of Scarlatti’s output in this genre. (One might reasonably go so far as to call the Scarlatti sonata close to a genre in itself. It does not spring out of nowhere, nor does it lead to nowhere, but few if any binary forms are quite like it.) From the outset, we knew that this was music internalised, so that these performances, without a hint of the wilful, could in a positive sense be like no others. Freedom was not licence; rather, it offered a guiding thread that enabled a particular sequence of works to emerge in a particular way, with fresh performances that would have been otherwise in a different order, let alone a different day. For instance, in the first pair of works, in F major, harmonic rhythm that was allied to, yet never dictated by, metre was the frame for a relish in the composer’s obstinacy and graciousness alike: aristocratic in the best sense. As the recital progressed, repeated figures, sequences scales, ornaments and other building blocks emerged as characteristic, yet varied, nothing so mundane as a cliché. The illusion of dynamic contrast was conjured—except, of course, that it was not always an illusion. 

A fascinating sequence of minor-key works communicated a proper sense of Affekt, quite distinct from later tonal understandings, associative or otherwise. Where I as a teenager had been tempted to the maudlin, here this music was brought to life, without any of the irritating, nonsensical reductionism of many so-called ‘Baroque’ musicians who would claim all music of the period is a dance. This is a world with as many options as ours, and so too it sounded here, whilst making the sum of those options more than the sum of its parts. Continuities and discontinuities, and the way they fit together, offered here and elsewhere courtly dignity and allure, and a fine sense of caprice. Crossing of hands, leaning appoggiaturas, agogic accents, fanfares that spoke of a world beyond the keyboard, and magical moments of suspense expertly punctured led towards a final sequence of sonatas that built in gravity and abandon, tempting us to think each one the last, until a successor twisted the screw a little further. Something darker, mysteriously Mediterranean characterised the final programmed work, the perfect response to its predecessor’s abandon. Programming and performance worked as one.

Thursday 13 October 2022

Apartment House - Leith, Pranulytė, Keney, McLaughin, and Sheen, 12 October 2022

Wigmore Hall

Oliver Leith: Grinding bust turning (2018)
Juta Pranulytė: Harmonic Islands (2022, world premiere)
Zoltán Jeney: El Silencio (1986, UK premiere)
Scott McLaughlin: Natura Naturans II (2022, world premiere)
Jack Sheen: Solo for cello (2021)

Josephine Stephenson (soprano)
Heather Roche (clarinet)
Kerry Yong (piano)
Gordon Mackay, Mira Benjamin (violins)
Bridget Carey, Reiad Chibah (violas)
Colin Alexander, Anton Lukoszevieze (cellos)

Humans often like to classify. Aristotelians certainly do. There is nothing wrong with that, up to a point; it helps us make sense of the world, recognise affinities and connections, suggests how we might explain them, and so on. At the same time, categories and labels can take on a life of their own, alienated, even reified. So far, so uncontroversial, I imagine; so why mention it? Because, I think, those thoughts chimed with some of my experience here. In none of these cases did I have much idea what to expect from the music I was about to hear: always an exciting prospect, especially when one has to write about it. I fumbled, initially, with labels to try to express an unquestionable affinity—unquestionable to my ears, anyway—between the music heard, but in the end thought them unhelpful, preferring instead to try to address the substance rather than a preconceived idea.

If I had read the programme note beforehand, I should have been helped by Apartment House artistic director Anton Lukoszevieze’s title for the evening, ‘Harmonic Fields’. But perhaps it was better that I did not until later, maintaining the innocence of my ear. In fact, what Lukoszevieze went on to outline was somewhat different from what I heard. He pointed to ‘the works all inhabit[ing] different areas or “fields” of harmonic activity,’ continuing: ‘at this stage in the 21st century there do not appear to be any dominant styles or aesthetic movements. We seem to be wading through a delta of different types of composition, resulting in many rivers of confluence.’ The first statement, regarding different areas or fields was undoubtedly the case, though I heard in each case a particular attachment to particular fields: not that they did not change; most did indeed transform, but in general they transformed slowly, or (not, I hope, an abdication of listening, since I mean to imply some separation between ‘reality’ and impression) gave the impression of doing so. However, regarding the second point, whilst I should broadly agree; the owl of Minerva tends, as we all know, only to spread its wings at dusk. We may now think of Brahms and Wagner, even Schoenberg and Stravinsky, as having as much in common as they do things that separate them, but they and most of their contemporaries did not—and often with good reason. What did strike me, though, was that these particular pieces, all but one written in the past four years, seemed very much to do so, in the sense of all moving, in various senses, slowly; that ‘slowly’ important, but so, equally, is the ‘moving’. 

Oliver Leith’s Grinding bust turning presented, in Lukoszevieze’s admirable description, a pairing of his own ‘cello and clarinet [Heather Roche] as a dissolute couple, bonded but not united, pitch-wise, both playing material in unison but tuned microtonally apart’. Such sounds our ears have become ready to accept over the past few decades, some listeners actually relishing the lack of perfection in ‘period’ ensembles that go more readily out of tune than, say, the Berlin Philharmonic ever would, but also of course through intentional compositional use of microtones. The lack of cello vibrato, though, also brought to my mind a sort of ‘school orchestra’ sound. Repetition and what Lukoszevieze described as a ‘grating’ quality drew one in to listen, Kerry Yong’s piano seemingly doing its own thing, though that own thing certainly had its own tendencies too. A jest, or something more serious? Perhaps it was both. Not for nothing did Lukoszevieze refer to Satie.

Juta Pranulytė’s Harmonic Islands, for the same forces, and Zoltán Jeney’s El Silencio (from 1986, yet receiving its UK premiere) for soprano, two violins, two violas and cellos ha din common an expansive, extensive quality. The former seemed more obviously to be in transition, though that was, I think, partly a matter of appearance. It certainly offered considerable contrast with the sound of what had gone before, the cello’s vibrato now suggesting a different instrument; often the writing for clarinet and piano did too. The method of engineering—or, as it seemed, painting—harmonic change through movement such as glissando in one part (cello or clarinet) against constant piano was very much to the fore. Yet so too were aural tricks, or to put it another way, the deception of my ears; the cello might sound as a clarinet echo, or the piano strings as an intensification of their cousins on the cello. The world of Schoenberg’s ‘Farben’ was not, perhaps, entirely done with, all these years on.

Jeney’s piece, moving towards a slow setting of words from Lorca, although it took some while for the soprano, Josephine Stevenson, to enter, offered a different variety of string non vibrato to Leith’s piece: glassier, closer to a more typical ‘new music’ variety. Taking its time again seemed to be a good deal of the point, microtones perhaps paradoxically (although not unlike in Leith) as much delimiting the field as opening it up. All music has its boundaries, its constraints. 

Scott McLaughlin’s Natura Naturans II, for clarinet, two violins, two violas, and two cellos, takes its name from Schelling’s term, to quote the composer, ‘for the continuous “productivity” of nature: nothing is fixed, instead it is constantly “becoming” as it cycles through stable, unstable, and “metastable” manifestations.’ That is very much what we heard here, testament to the excellence of performance, no doubt, as well as to the work itself. Clarinet summoned strings and responded to them, or so it seemed, the relationship soon being revealed as more complex than that. This was music ever becoming, never familiar, with an almost visual quality to it. As with everything heard in this concert, these seemed to be decidedly northern skies. I recall then asking myself ‘why did you think of skies?’ Perhaps there is something to that description, or perhaps it simply says something about me. Might these have been waters instead? I am not sure. 

Finally, with the period after the interval to itself, came Jack Sheen’s Solo for Cello, played by Lukoszevieze with fixed audio, in what seemed to be another masterly performance, fully in control of the material, fully at ease with necessary modes of expression. Opening harmonic arpeggios soon had one’s ears picking up the slightest (as well as greater) differences, whether in pitch, rhythm, tempo, or other aspects of figuration. Change was often slow, yet unmistakeable, from time to time not slow at all. Lukoszevieze’s description of ‘a kind of flickering, glitchy and incessant “moto perpetuo”,’ again captured the music as well as his performance. I thought at one point of flecks in a woollen garment, the points of restricted proliferation—although all proliferation has its constraints, surely. Circling, dancing, singing, repeating, changing, slowing, speeding: much changed in irregular (I think) patterns. A mysterious silence that was not, allowing the audio its solo moment, heralded the close. Sheen’s score seemed quietly to question itself.

Monday 10 October 2022

Southbank Centre - Xenakis at 100, 8 October 2022

Queen Elizabeth Hall

O-Mega; Palimpsest; Echange; Thalleïn for ensemble

Concret PH; Kottos; Rebonds A, Rebonds B

Psappha; Ikhoor; Tetras; Mikka and Mikka ‘S’; Pléïades

Mark van de Wiel (clarinet)
Philip Howard (piano)
Tim Gill (cello)
Oliver Lowe, Colin Currie (percussion)
London Sinfonietta
Geoffrey Paterson (conductor)
JACK Quartet
Colin Currie Group

Iannis Xenakis’s music does not age. It is an ahistorical cliché to say so, likewise to say how stark, elemental, uncompromising, visceral, mysterious, unique, and so on it is. Those descriptions retain their force, whilst remaining open to exception and to broader questioning. But they came to many listeners’ mind, judging by the general conversation at the Queen Elizabeth Hall throughout this Xenakis Day, seeming to lodge themselves in a sort of collective consciousness through which works and performances could be heard. I did not, alas, hear all of the day’s events, but I attended the two principal concerts in the hall itself, hearing also three of the works on offer in the foyer in between. It was, I think, enough—although the way the closing Pléïades left one aurally bludgeoned was less on account of the astounding performances from the Colin Corrie Group of six percussionists than the unsuitability of the hall: a pity, one necessarily felt, whilst recognising that the Southbank Centre had done what it could.

The first works I heard were four from the London Sinfonietta and Geoffrey Paterson, in performances like everything here that seemed quite beyond reproach. (If you are going to play Xenakis, you tend to do it well.) O-Mega, for percussion and ensemble, made for a splendid opener; after that, his final work, we could only go back, at least temporally. Oliver Lowe’s opening bongo tattoo, a call to something, it seemed, met with implacable wind response, a hieratic ritual initiated in a theatre of music that might always have been, except it had not. Moving from 1997 to 1979, Palimpsest, for eleven instruments, offered piano (and other) scales reinvented before our ears, its lines unmistakeably architectural, even engineered—to borrow a little too readily from the composer’s other callings. Sawmill strings, wind fractals in which one could see as well as hear the geometry, virtuoso drumming and so much more: this was not easy listening, nor was it supposed to be. It was quite a journey to final, mesmerising piano-and-drum-led climax.

Échange, for bass clarinet (Mark van de Wiel) and ensemble, was similarly yet entirely differently primal. Again, it sounded unmistakeably that ‘this was how it must be’, in a world of violence (like our own) quite unconcealed. How can we continue so blithely, it seemed to ask, in a world imperilled by nuclear attack? Xenakis must have asked the same thing, or so we fancied. And yet, life in all its physicality, all its mental wonder, continued. The bass clarinet, somewhere between priest and Pierrot, bade new sounds emerge at will, though that will was again sometimes no mean effort. The ensemble could, though, and did respond. The startling weirdness of an E-flat major chord could hardly have sounded more alien: a signal, it seemed, from yet another planet.

Thalleïn, the Sinfonietta’s first commission (1984) from Xenakis, was as implacable as anything yet heard, perhaps still more so. Siren-like—ambulance, not temptress—its opening had us browbeaten, and thereby strangely receptive to proliferating subtleties to come, even to the point of finding them inviting. Masses of sound continued to confront us to exhilarating effect. Ascending and descending scales led both ways, so it seemed, to hell, their mockery a deeply serious business. Piccolo pierced our consciousness, at times painfully, like a moment of alarm on an intensive care unit screen. There was blood-letting aplenty, the final string swarms, punctuated by percussion, as far as ever from consolation. 

Concret PH, like most, possibly all, musique concrete actually did seem to have aged—though even that is dependent on our knowing the unknowable Rankean ‘how it really was’, and how can we? Even if we had been there, in the 1958 Expo Philips Pavilion Xenakis as Le Corbusier’s assistant designed, memory would play its tricks. There is no ‘authenticity’; there never was; and anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or a charlatan. How admirably full of integrity Xenakis and his fellow avant-gardists seem contrasted with those snake-oil-salesmen to come. No, you cannot hear the St Matthew Passion as if you had never heard Xenakis; more to the point, why would you wish to? Or is that just to invest my own fantasy of postwar ‘inauthenticity’ as super- or supra-authenticity? There was, at any rate, room for fantasy here, if one closed one’s eyes and listened. Here was another world: inaccessible, perhaps, like that of Bach’s Leipzig, yet an idea not without its own seduction. 

Tim Gill’s performance of Kottos for cello really deserved the main hall, as did Lowe’s Rebonds A and Rebonds B. They were mightily fine accounts, though, wherever one heard them, the first’s evocation of the horrible hundred-armed creature, progeny of Uranus and Gaia, a song both fragile and stark: deeply rooted, if hardly in the conventional harmonic sense. Or perhaps it was, for I felt the implication at least of a harmonic language, even if I could never know it, even if it were in fact unknowable. There was whimsy in the asides, even as the ‘creature’ gained strength. And the music reached something akin to ecstasy, doubtless more effortful than that of Messiaen, yet no less genuine for that. The state of frenzy reached was a liberation of sorts, not least amidst the hell of our current existence. Both Rebonds pieces, A in particular, invoked—even if we knew not what (that inscrutability again). One was drawn in, less hypnotised than converted, in powerfully cumulative, remarkably different experiences of control and abandon. 

In the evening, Colin Currie’s Psappha seemed almost designed to cement our growing sense of structure as fundamental in an emphatic, again quasi-engineered sense to Xenakis’s work. The extraordinary musicianship on show never threatened to take on a life of its own; structure remained paramount. There seemed no other way. And the silences: they might almost have been from Bruckner. Here, again, was a summoning both archaic and not. Pléïades, here ordered ‘Metaux’, ‘Claviers’, ‘Peaux’, ‘Mélanges’, suffered, as I said, from an ear-splitting quality that made it, for me at least, too difficult to take, the sixxens too rarely emerging, to quote Xenakis, as ‘clouds, nebulas, and galaxies of the fragmented dust of beats’. Even here, though, ‘the idea of periodicity, repetition, duplication, faithful, pseudo-faithful,’ and above all ‘unfaithful copy’ shone through. ‘Claviers’ came closer to polyphony, its ripples even a little Boulezian, though I am not sure either composer would have approved of the comparison. Its patterns emerged as if on multiple screens before our ears. Drummed hypnosis in ‘Peaux’ prepared the way for less a synthesis or recapitulation than a gigantic rehearing, even rewriting when all instruments united in ‘Mélanges’. It was ear-splitting, again, at times, but in quite an aural landscape, at times almost dreamed.

Rhythm, its problems and opportunities, had haunted much of the string music in between, especially Ikhoor for string trio and Tetras for string quartet, both given by the JACK Quartet. Vivid, fiercely directed narratives marked out both, as did superhuman unanimity of purpose. Tetras seemed somehow both stranger and familiar, the strangeness heightened by sounds I might have sworn had emerged from electronics, did I not know otherwise. Voices, of whatever sort, bore witness, as if from Luigi Nono’s long-estranged cousin. Two works for violin solo, Mikka and Mikka ‘S’, were given by the quartet member absent for the trio, Austin Wulliman. Measured swarming, control in dilemma, line tracked as if in a real-time graph: throughout one ‘felt’ the mathematics, or imagined one did. As in every performance here, there was a rightness that left one knowing, like this music or not, it deserved as well as demanded to be heard.

Friday 7 October 2022

Stefanovich - Bach, Rameau, and Messiaen, 6 October 2022

Hall One, Kings Place

Bach: Aria variata alla maniera italiana, BWV 989
Messiaen: Préludes: ‘Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste’
Bach: Three-part Inventions: Sinfonia no.9 in F minor, BWV 795
Rameau: Pièces de clavecin: ‘L’entretien des muses’
Messiaen: Catalogue d’oiseaux: ‘Le courlis cendré’; Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus: ‘Regard des anges’, ‘Première communion de la Vierge’
Rameau: Pièces de clavecin: ‘Les cyclopes’; Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin: ‘La poule’
Messiaen: Catalogue d’oiseaux: ‘L’alouette calandrelle’
Bach: Three-part Inventions: ‘Sinfonia no.15 in B minor, BWV 801
Messiaen: Vingt regards: ‘La parole toute puissante’, ‘Noël’; Cantéyodjayâ

Tamara Stefanovich (piano)

I had found myself reflecting recently how sad it was that Olivier Messiaen’s music had somewhat gone out of fashion. It does not go unheard, but like that of many composers, the number of works regularly performed is not so great. There are advocates, of course, though perhaps fewer than would be ideal. The loss of Pierre Boulez continues to hit the cause of twentieth-century music hard and this is surely a case in point. Sometimes an anniversary offers an opportunity; alas, nothing significant is approaching. As Messiaen, then, finds himself in the doldrums, alongside figures such as Hindemith (how much longer?!) and Tippett, it was refreshing indeed to find his music so thoughtfully programmed and brilliantly performed as here by Tamara Stefanovich in the opening programme of this year’s London Piano Festival.   

Bach, though not at his most familiar, began the recital: the Aria variata. Stefanovich’s rich-toned, deeply considered reading showed, should there have been any doubters, that performance with great insight into contemporary (to Bach) language and practice is perfectly possible on the piano. I fancied I heard her a little, or more than a little, of her stated admiration for Nikolaus Harnoncourt here. ‘French’ rhythms were strongly to the fore, already pointing the way not only to Rameau but, perhaps more strongly still, to Messiaen. With command of Bach’s rhetoric, Stefanovich employed variation form and the changes of perspective it wrought to fashion a powerful cumulative statement. Freedom and form were unmistakeably two sides of the same coin. 

Youthful Bach (c.1709) gave way to still more youthful Messiaen. The ‘Chant d’extase dans un paysage triste’ from his early Préludes captured the spirit of its poetic title with just the right sort of post-Debussyan voice. Ecstasy, as in much of what was to come, offered liberation in its ordered delirium; or was that an exquisite cage? Perhaps there was no need to choose. Nor was there, returning to Bach, in the darkly chromatic yearning of the F minor Sinfonia, a ‘black pearl’ of its own. Rameau offered a staging post in between, though with its own character. The difference of his conception of harmony—recall Emanuel Bach’s self-portrayal as ‘anti-Rameau’—and indeed of ornamentation seemed in some ways closer to Messiaen, though these are not perhaps composers we most readily consider bedfellows. ‘L’entretien des muses’ was similarly well-shaped, dynamic contrasts very much part of that shaping. Two Messiaen pieces closed the first half: from Catalogue d’oiseaux: ‘Le courlis cendré’, and from Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus: ‘Regard des anges’. Playful violence across the keyboard, not unlike a swerving cat, took us from deep chords and high birdsong to a further sweep of carolling colours and contrasts. 

The second half opened with another ‘regard’, ‘Première communion de la Vierge’, which brought further heavenly ecstasy. Rock-solid rhythm enabled fantastic melodic arabesques to work their magic above; so too did harmony, Rameau’s ghost included. Two more of Rameau’s keyboard pieces, ‘Les cyclopes’ and ‘La poule’ followed, the former unfolding with grace and not entirely dissimilar fantasy, the former a study in pictorial caprice and obstinacy suggestive of another harpsichordist contemporary, Domenico Scarlatti. Indeed, great Scarlatti pianists came to my mind in the display and relish we heard for score and instrument alike. Repeated notes offered a strange yet convincing rainbow bridge between this and the next Messiaen piece, the second Bach Sinfonia in context effecting an almost Apollonian restoration of order. 

Almost mocking in its apocalyptic vision, cutting us mere mortals down to size, ‘La parole toute puissante’ more than lived up to its name. This final Messiaen sequence, culminating in the extraordinary rhythms—and manifold implications—of Cantéyodjayâ, unleashed a torrential force of pianistic yet above all musical bravura. Weird, wonderful, above all unanswerable, this was music that played by—and was played with—its own rules, a crazy world of mysteries in itself that confirmed beyond doubt how much richer our own world is with the music of Messiaen.

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Guy - Chopin, Murail, and Beethoven, 3 October 2022

Wigmore Hall

Chopin: Nocturne in C minor, op.48 no.1, Ballade no.1 in G minor, op.23, Piano Sonata no.3 in B minor, op.58
Tristan Murail: Impression, soleil levant
Beethoven: Piano Sonata no.32 in C minor, op.111

François-Frédéric Guy (piano)

In this Wigmore Hall recital, François-Frédéric Guy took a fresh look at well-known piano masterpieces, and presented a work new this year, written for him by Tristan Murail. Dedicated to the memory of two close friends, Nicholas Angelich and Lars Vogt, it was an interesting concert in the best sense, with nothing taken as read and much to have one think. 

The first half was dedicated to Chopin, opening with the C minor Nocturne, op.48 no.1. Guy married harmony to rhythm in its first section, immediately conveying a sense of the inexorable. Dignified, never remotely sentimental, it both prepared the way for and necessitated contrast in an ever-broadening middle section, which in turn resulted in a modified return that evoked the spirit rather than the letter of synthesis. The G minor Ballade, both grandly rhetorical and intimate in its whispered confidences, evinced kinship with the Nocturne, whilst emerging free of evident relation to any particular pianistic tradition. Again, it was resolutely sentimental, even to the point at which I should not have minded a little old world charm; but this was not an old world performance, and why should it be? It spoke and increasingly sang with an integrity, fire, and miraculous concision that were its own: more important than being note-perfect. 

The B minor Sonata began with a directness difficult not to think of as ‘Beethovenian’, though naturally soon proceeded in a different direction. The first movement reminded me at times of Liszt, and not only (I think) on account of the key. Not that it was especially seductive; this was, if anything, a performance notable for its lack of perfume. Paradoxically, one had to listen for its lyricism; yet, when one did, it was there. Likewise in the scherzo, though perhaps less surprisingly there: it sounded as if a piece of post-impressionist play with light on water—sometimes quite troubled water. A forthright ‘Largo’ led to a marauder icy even in heat of a finale. Much was unexpected, yet never did it sound unreasonable. Guy had one listen.

Murail’s Impression, soleil levant seemed, especially in the context of such performances, more preoccupied with the nature of sound: in general, and piano sound in particular. More flexible, even melting, both inside the piano and on its keys, it nonetheless had melodic lines sound as if taken from Chopin and placed in radically new harmonic context. Occasionally, the ghost of Debussy rattled its chains, but the way of hearing encouraged was different. This seemed to me a commanding performance, even on a first hearing (for me) presenting the work as it should. 

Finally, we heard Beethoven’s last piano sonata, op.111, a work greatly admired by Chopin (amongst many others!) Its opening diminished seventh leaps sounded as if on loan from Chopin or Liszt (the B minor Sonata in particular), offering a fine sense of transition to Beethoven’s world: steeped here as much in the fantasias, especially that also in C minor, of Mozart as in the Romanticism of Beethoven’s own century (by now). Whatever the antecedents or successors, that fantasia-like quality and recognisably Beethovenian fury were strongly to the fore in the first movement. Phrases melted, to be sure, yet within that initially constructed frame. Flashes across the canvas—striking clarity of counterpoint in the development, extraordinary harmonic twists in the recapitulation—had me once more imagining I was hearing this music for the first time. The Arietta that opens the second and final movement sang with just the right sort of quiet dignity. Guy’s ear (and fingers) for telling detail ensured that, again, this corresponded only to a new vision, or so it seemed, beholden to no particular view from the past. The first variation continued and intensified; its successor worked magic that sounded, for all its familiarity, once more new, the third variation still more so. And so, the wondrous voyage continued, neither entirely familiar nor unfamiliar. Through a gossamer filigree extending already, so it seemed, beyond Mendelssohn, a snow-like brilliance on the white keys, a rapt sublimity that could never be mistaken for anyone else’s, and so much more, there was no doubt this was Beethoven—the cruel loss of whom in the pandemic year of 2020 some of us still feel and perhaps always will. Yet this was not pious or precious Beethoven; it lived and breathed in a way that rightly took nothing for granted.