The Andermatt Winter Festival is a new event inhabiting the equally new concert hall in this small Alpine village above the St. Gotthard Pass in Switzerland. Among the ski chalets and cable cars this community has been transformed in the last decade from a bleak military base into a collection of luxury hotels and apartments. In the basement of the Radisson is a hall seating only 650 but able to put a Beethoven size orchestra on stage. The first winter festival was a four day celebration of Beethoven.
Artistic Director: Maximilian Fane
Wednesday 15 January 2020
Beethoven Piano Sonatas No. 15 Op. 28, No. 3 Op. 2, No. 24 Op. 78, No. 30 Op. 109.
Daniel Barenboim Piano
Listening to Barenboim live this late in his career (he is 78) is an exceptionally rewarding but complicated experience. In many ways he never was a piano virtuoso, splashing out the notes to impress and amaze with his skill. Instead his pianism has always been about exploration and education – pointing out aspects of the music he finds important, just as he does as a conductor.
Later in the year he will give complete cycles of the Beethoven sonatas in Paris and Berlin but here, at the start of the Beethoven 250 celebrations, he gave a potted chronological overview. At the start there was the leftover classicism inherited from Mozart and Haydn and at the end the intense romanticism of the late works that contemporaries knew were important but found incomprehensible. Even in the early pieces, though, Beethoven was using the slow movements to undermine the harmonic conventions of the 18th century, darkening and questioning the emotional certainties of comfortable lyricism.
It was this aspect that Barenboim seemed determined to show us. The faster outer sections were dispatched with brisk efficiency, their clockwork mechanisms illuminated, pointed out with glee and laid out for our delight. He makes mistakes these days but they are never glaring and they clearly don’t distract from the fluency of his arguments. They are the difference between a conversation among friends and a polished but lifeless photograph. The real point Barenboim wanted to make was to help us concentrate on the adagio heart of each sonata, Ludwig a little lovelorn and yearning in the early and middle years but by Op. 109 tortured, wrapped in the melancholy of soundless isolation.
For the few hundred of us lucky enough to hear Barenboim lead us through Op. 109, this was a performance that will endure in the memory as long as we have one. He taught us how to examine the veracity of our own preoccupations, to pass our loves and fears through the filter of Beethoven’s introspection, and to emerge, as the sonata does, into a world that is no more kind than it was before but can at least be made true.