Music in the Afternoon:Anton Kuerti/Teng Li reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Thursday, November 15, 2007, Walter Hall, Toronto.

Anton Kuerti is a virtuoso who gets better and better. He played a program of sonatas that epitomized classical values — delicacy, clarity, and precision. At the same time, his Haydn was romantic, the Beethoven had flamboyance, the Schubert was deep and spacious, the Brahms (with Violist Teng Li) was poignant with dying.

Haydn’s “Sonata No. 38 in F Major, Hob. XVI No. 23” was among his first works published by Artaria following Haydn’s new contract with his princely patron in 1779 that allowed Haydn compositional independence and the income from sales of his music. One hears in this work an appeal to a broader, more varied audience than Haydn had at court. The melodies have a simple charm and the ornamental runs are dazzling in a popular way. The slow movement anticipates the melancholy loveliness of Chopin.

Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No.6 in F Major, Op.10, No. 2”, is an early work from the composer’s first period in Vienna (1796-99). Beethoven had been working out a radical approach to sonata form to enhance its dramatic possibilities by making the recapitulation less of a symmetrical return and more of a triumphant transformation in a tragic or melodramatic mode. Kuerti’s playing is masculine: the forceful melodies are backed by left-handed thunder. However, in this particular sonata, the mood is not tragic but whimsical and good-natured.

Franz Schubert’s “Sonata in C minor, D.958 (Op. Posth.)” is one of three piano sonatas from the composer’s last year of life (1828). The C minor expresses the composer’s idea of cyclical return through links between the movements that one hears in thematic, rhythmic and harmonic materials. Kuerti’s account focuses our attention on the divine melody in the opening ‘Allegro’, the gorgeous depth of feeling in the ‘Adagio’, and the sense of ‘gap’ or open space in the soft-spoken humanity of the closing ‘Allegros’.

The “Sonata for Viola and Piano in E flat Major, Op.120, No. 2” was issued in 1895 after Brahms had declared the end of his work as a composer. Written for clarinet and piano, Brahms adapted it for viola at the suggestion of Joseph Joachim. The rich ‘autumnal’ tones of Teng Li’s viola were pleasing to the ear and appropriate to the season. The timing of this duo was perfectly synched to mirror the extraordinary compositional artistry that one admires in Brahms’ music.

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