Review: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Beethoven & Ives, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 17

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Beethoven and Charles Ives at Aldeburgh Festival 2018 Photo: Matt Jolly,

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Beethoven and Charles Ives at Aldeburgh Festival 2018 Photo: Matt Jolly, - Credit: Archant

This was a recital to savour; one of today’s most celebrated pianists playing two outstanding works from the entire piano canon, what more could one ask?

If asked to choose the greatest single work written for the piano many people would probably opt for Beethoven’s monumental Hammerklavier sonata. Written when he was almost completely deaf and increasingly isolated socially, the work pushed the boundaries of sonata form and pianistic technique to new and elevated heights.

The arresting opening figure immediately announces the ambition and Aimard launched us into the vortex of the first movement, exploiting the extreme registers of the piano to the full. The scherzo was, by turns, whimsical, stark and violent before vanishing into thin air.

The slow movement is one of Beethoven’s most profound and original creations and which maintains a remarkable hold over an audience despite its span of twenty minutes. Aimard unerringly guided us on a spiritual journey of rare depth and insight. The probing transition to the finale was perfectly done and the vigorous and virtuosic fugue was delivered with outstanding clarity and elan.

The work by Charles Ives carries the full title Piano Sonata No 2, Concord, Mass., 1840-1860 and is a reference to the Massachusetts town where many of the original Transcendentalist thinkers and writers congregated and whose ideas inspired Ives.

Each of the four movements bears the name of a leading figure, in the case of the opening movement, (Ralph Waldo) Emmerson. Arguably this is the least engaging movement despite its use of the opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony; it is heavily chordal and has a somewhat declamatory, didactic air.

The second movement is more mercurial and Aimard produced a brilliant flurry of notes at the start and an engaging swagger as flashes of ragtime and songs appeared. The sudden stillness of the hymnal chords was a heart-stopping moment and the slow movement took this to more exalted levels.

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The final movement rather wonderfully suggests Henry Thoreau’s musings and flute playing at Walden Pond and Aimard quietly and exquisitely drew the curtain on a fascinating musical journey.

Thank-you Pierre, wonderful.

Gareth Jones