Serkin, Kim And Beethoven

Posted: October 11, 1989

Because Beethoven returned again and again to a kind of music - piano sonatas, string quartets, trios - one or two of each genre tend to stand for the whole catalog. Audiences hear the same three piano sonatas, and the same two violin sonatas, from those who hope to be known as Beethoven performers without having to understand the whole musical landscape.

In their Beethoven recital last night at the Port of History Museum, pianist Peter Serkin and violinist Young Uck Kim played some of the other

violin sonatas, the relatively early ones that show Beethoven searching, testing, and growing. These performers are playing the entire Beethoven canon later in New York, and chose four pieces written within five years, 1797-1802, to remind this audience of the music that rarely reaches what has become the norm in recital fare.

The works they chose underlined their approach. This was not an evening of solo display with piano accompaniment, but one of intense collaboration in music which often resisted the virtuoso posture. Kim played through a range of sound that included whispers, brusk attacks, soaring lyricism and dry, unvibrated notes presented as background to the piano. Serkin's role was as widely varied. The drama they found in the music often grew from within the intense nuance they found within relatively narrow dynamic ranges. When a real fortissimo emerged, it sounded symphonic, even thunderous.

Their playing aimed at the heart of the music rather than its display. Only the Spring Sonata, which closed the program, presented the violin in its grand solo role. The Sonata in D (Op. 12, No. 1) and the Sonata in A (Op. 30, No. 1) made the performers equals, partners in dialogue and made violinist and pianist reflect each other's sound, attack and subtly shifting pace. Each of those works has a set of variations within it, and in each, the players sounded inspired by the statements, the ornaments, the shifting background and foreground aspect of the writing.

In all four of the pieces, these performers implied a sense of discovery at the same time their ensemble implied complete security. The fugue in the middle movement of the Sonata in A minor (Op. 23) sounded as if each were questioning the other's alertness and poise while validating the strength of the music itself.

If the earlier pieces were pointing to expressive expansions and grandeur, their reading of the Spring Sonata summarized Beethoven's later manner. More, their playing summarized the highest ideals of ensemble.

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