Louis Schwizgebel

BBC Radio 3’s New Generation artist Louis Schwizgebel gives a live recital of piano works by Haydn, Chopin and Liszt

Louis SchwitzgebelPhoto © Caroline Doutre

Louis Schwizgebel – Wigmore Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 23 February 2015

Listening link (opens in a new window):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05302mn

on the iPlayer until 24 March

For non-UK listeners, this Spotify playlist is available:

For those unable to hear the broadcast I have put together a Spotify playlist. Louis has not recorded this repertoire, so I have chosen suitable available versions:

What’s the music?

HaydnPiano Sonata in E flat major (1789-90) (19 minutes)

ChopinBallade no.3 in A flat major (1841) (7 minutes)

ChopinÉtude in C# minor (1836) (5 minutes)

ChopinWaltz in C# minor (1847) (4 minutes)

ChopinFantaisie-impromptu in C# minor (c1834) (4 minutes)

LisztConsolation no.3 in D flat major (1849-50) (4 minutes)

LisztHungarian Rhapsody No. 6 in D flat major (c1863) (6 minutes)

What about the music?

This is a cleverly structured recital taking in three giants of the piano.

Schwizgebel begins with Haydn, godfather of so many musical forms – and one of the first composers to start writing what became known as the mature piano sonata, in three movements. His examples in the form – many written like this one for the palace of Esterházy in Hungary – show good humour and a delicate touch. This work, not often heard in concert, fits the bill nicely as an opening piece.

Schwizgebel’s Chopin selection is carefully structured so that the keys fit – moving from A flat major for the Ballade into C# minor for the three other works. The Ballade is a form in which Chopin made very personal expressions but which also allowed him the chance to experiment formally. The three works following are an unusually profound Etude (Study) – which sounds technical but is far from dry, shot through with characteristic Chopin melancholy. The Waltz is more playful, coming back to the same theme again and again, while the freeform Fantaisie-Impromptu makes the most of its freedom.

Liszt was a barnstorming virtuoso – the piano equivalent of Jimi Hendrix, you could say! – but he had his sensitive side too, as the Consolations show – and this one selected is a tribute to Chopin himself. It is a thoughtful example, leading to the fire and brimstone of the Hungarian Rhapsody no.6, given the natural inflections of the music of Liszt’s own country before a helter-skelter coda.

Performance verdict

Schwizgebel is a thoughtful Haydn pianist, and gives a rather touching performance of the slow movement in particular. He is commendably modest in performance, preferring not to go for the demonstrative approach, but instead letting his playing do the talking. The Chopin selection is excellent, very well played, losing a little rhythmic definition in the climax of the Étude but trumping that with a dazzling Fantaisie-impromptu.

The Liszt could perhaps have done with more of the reckless bravura you get in the Hungarian Rhapsodies, a sense of living right on the edge. That said, the closing pages are brilliantly played, the octaves written for the right hand immaculately delivered.

What should I listen out for?

Haydn

4:19 – a matter-of-fact start to the first movement, with a slightly gruff accompaniment to the tune. Yet Haydn’s easy charm is soon in evidence, despite the left hand having to work pretty hard in accompaniment!

11:14 – the second movement begins, headed by a graceful melody, as if assigned to a singer. Then, later on, it nearly stops as the right hand melody gets lost in thought before ambling to an easy close.

19:46 – a typically perky Haydn finale, nicely proportioned and sensitively played here.

Chopin

24:36 – the Ballade no.3 – beginning with an attractive introductory theme before the music assumes the profile of a waltz (from 26:27). Schwizgebel takes this slower than a lot of pianists, with a delicate approach – allowing greater contrast for then the music appears again, much more forcefully, at 27:20. At 29:35 a shadow falls over the music and it becomes more fraught as it moves into a minor key – C sharp minor, which is the key for the next three works in the recital. The Ballade’s main theme comes back at 30:57 before the closing passage.

31:52 – the Étude in C# minor, numbered 7 in the second book of studies Chopin published as his Op.25. The left hand takes the lead with a rising theme, and sets the melody throughout in what is a deeply intense piece, the longest of Chopin’s Études.

37:25 – the more playful Waltz in C# minor, published as Op.64/2, characterised by a sparkling theme high up in the piano’s register. This returns frequently to trump the underlying melancholy in the music, and the player has the chance to play around with the speed to give the music more ebb and flow. A contrasting section (38:28) brings a ray of light in the middle.

40:35 – the Fantaisie-Impromptu, a freeform piece where the floodgates just open! A torrent of notes form the main theme, wheeling up and down the keyboard, before taking the foot off the gas for a sweetly toned second theme (41:31)…which segues neatly back to the river of notes again (43:24)

Liszt

46:02 – the Consolation in D flat major, one of a set of six. Intimate and romantic, especially in this performance.

50:07 – the Hungarian Rhapsody no.6 begins with a drone and a rustic tune, very controlled in this performance, which takes some nice liberties with the tempo, holding back where necessary. There is some dazzling virtuosity as the piano then unfurls a variation on that melody before a solemn second theme (51:50) makes itself known. At 54:01 the final section starts with a melody played in octaves, which soon works to a thunderous climax (55:33).

Encore

57:36 – Moszkowski’s Étincelles (1886) – a showpiece from the Polish composer, with some brilliant runs up and down the keyboard as well as some sharply pointed notes. Schwizgebel dispatches it very impressively, with a wonderful throw-away finish!

Want to hear more?

Haydn’s humour makes for lovely music to work to – and a personal favourite is his C major sonata.
Chopin’s Ballades reward repeated listening – so after the intimate Third I would recommend the stormier Fourth – with the calm of an A minor Waltz and the famous Raindrop prelude completing a very attractive selection.

For Liszt with real depth the Vallée d’Obermann can be strongly recommended as a powerful utterance.

All these are collected on a Spotify playlist, below the repertoire played by Schwizgebel:

For more concerts click here

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