Anton Kuerti, piano recital for Medici Concerts

(Conservatorium Theatre)


While Christo and Jeanne-Claude are unfurling their 7500 Gates in Central Park, Anne Thompson is opening the recital year here in Brisbane with her marvellous Medici Concerts.

In bringing us an initial performance of epic proportions by a North American artist, she looks forward to another year of piano music from the worlds best.

Austrian-born Kuerti has lived and recorded impressively in Canada for the last 30 years. At the Conservatorium Theatre South Bank last Saturday night, his fingers presented three landmark pieces, all written within a ten year span.

Were talking the first part of the 19th century 1818 to 1828 to be exact – when the piano was affirming its identity as the most popular and most capable of all instruments.

In a packed hall which groaned and creaked distractingly through the night, Kuerti led us to Parnassus but for all his excellence couldnt take us on the climb with him.

The Canadian master musician opened with Mendelssohn, displaying amazing dexterity, variety of tone and clarity of contrapuntal concept that promised an outstanding night.

The second part of the Andante and Rondo capriccioso from 1828, when the composer was only nineteen, has all the puckishness of the composers incidental music for A Midsummer Nights Dream from 1842, while the same careful crafting informed Kuertis performance of Schuberts great A-major Sonata D 959 , also from 1828. Schubert is the great song writer of the German Romantic period and when restrained by the brevity of a text or the simple beauty of a lyrical melody his music makes for great listening. Otherwise he rambles.

And ramble, although beautifully, this sonata does. Of great effect is the gentle Andantino based on a melody constructed with much restraint (lovingly rendered by Kuerti). This tenderness is disrupted by fantastic outbursts, flourishes and accents that a too brief restatement of the theme does nothing to dispel.

The playful third movement is as fresh a new wine and was so pleasingly played; leaving us to drink deep of the melodies of the Rondo finale.

After interval came another spacious work, Beethovens 29th Sonata which, the soloist writes, is the longest, richest and perhaps the greatest of the thirty-two.

Beethovens title for his Opus 106 is Grosse Sonate fur das Hammer-klavier , to celebrate the arrival of a newly action-ed English piano from John Broadwood that could out-play and out-sound any of its rivals and who says size doesnt matter?

And what the master writes for it is truly gargantuan. Kuertis performance of this master work was monumental, the contrasts of triumphant heralding and gentle lyricism kept the first movement alive. In an experts hands, the Scherzo plays itself with playful seven bar phrases we expect eight and it did.

By the spacious slow movement, however, this listener was getting lost. Plenty of meat and potatoes can be a good thing, but after rambling through the Austrian countryside with Schubert and then doing battle with the Titans, I was ready for an after dinner nap.

The audience greeted Kuertis resolute rendition of the fugal finale with flagging applause and there were no encores. Was it that we just werent able to scale the heights of this masterpiece with him, was it that the performer could not inspire us?

Or were we all lost in space?

— John Colwill
(Performance seen: Fri 11th February 2005)