Wigmore Mondays – Benjamin Appl & Kristian Bezuidenhout: Schumann, Loewe, Mendelssohn & Zelter

Benjamin Appl (baritone, above), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano, below)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 16 September 2019 (lunchtime)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here

Review and guide by Ben Hogwood

Lieder can be downright miserable sometimes, as Benjamin Appl acknowledged when thanking us for attending this recital of ‘jolly German music’, with which the Wigmore Hall opened their 2019-20 season of BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts.

Appl, a baritone of ever-growing reputation, was performing with Kristian Bezuidenhout, who played a Blüthner fortepiano dating back to Leipzig in 1856 – the year of Schumann’s death. The instrument, an attractive rosewood colour, proved the ideal foil for an interesting programme looking at the Lied in Germany around the first half of the 19th century. In an hour we covered some little known ground from the output of Schumann himself, complemented by settings by Mendelssohn, Zelter and Loewe.

The pairing began with three later Robert Schumann songs, all based around the character Harper, from Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. Schumann set the songs in 1849, the centenary of the poet’s birth. Appl stood tall and upright in front of the piano, communicating directly with the audience through his eyes as well as his voice. Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass (Who never ate his bread in tears) was a sombre note on which to start, though the pain eased a little before the end, Bezuidenhout’s spread chords giving an indication of the fortepiano’s rounded sound. Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt (Who gives himself to loneliness) had a penetrating delivery from the singer, with a dark and unsettled postlude from the piano, while An die Türen will ich schleichen (From door to door will I steal) had a slightly lighter touch.

There followed three songs by Mendelssohn setting the poetry of Nikolaus Lenau. The short song An die Entfernte (To the distant beloved) danced lightly and was nicely phrased, before the nocturnal Schilflied (Reed song) was distracted and occasionally lost in thought. Frühlingslied (Spring song) emphatically blew away the cobwebs, the positive energy of the new season blowing the dark thoughts away.

The music of Carl Friedrich Zelter, a good friend of Goethe, is not often heard in the concert hall these days. He had his friend’s blessing however, the author approving of his direct methods of word setting, without too much in the way of musical dressing. His three Harfenspieler are bold settings and Appl sung them with clarity here, hitting the high notes of the second song with impressive intensity. Bezuidenhout was subtle in his complementary melodic lines on the fortepiano.

Contrasting with these were the dramatic songs of Carl Loewe. Herr Oluf is a self-contained Danish legend against the dangers of meeting Elves, and was performed with no quarter given, a terrific introduction from Bezuidenhout setting the energy level high. On occasion the singer has quite an unusual melodic profile, but this was straightforward for Appl’s vivid interpretation. The mischievous Hinkende Jamben was gone in an instant, with its mannerisms and lisps, before an expansive introduction to Tom der Reimer brought a grand tone from the singer. In a legend comparable in profile to Herr Oluf, it finished with brightly ringing bells, courtesy of Bezuidenhout’s picture painting.

When Schumann made his six settings of Lenau’s verse, he added a short Requiem in the mistaken knowledge that the poet had died. However when the day of the first performance arrived in 1850, news reached the gathering that Lenau had only just passed away, making the composer’s tribute strangely prophetic.

It is a dark cycle, reflecting perhaps the struggles of both men with mental illness – but illustrating at the same time the inner strength that music and poetry gave them. The steely Lied eines Schmiedes (Blacksmith’s Song) found Appl gathering himself with impressive projection, before the mood and heart softened a little for a languid account of Meine Rose (My Rose). Meanwhile Kommen und Scheiden (Meeting and Parting) had a devastating pay-off in the form of the emphasised last word, where the ‘last dream of my youth was taking leave of me’

Die Sennin (The Cowgirl) began with flowing piano, which led to Appl’s ringing delivery of ‘spring’s first song in the trees’, one of the recital’s most memorable moments. From there the cycle took a darker tone, Bezuidenhout breeding anxiety with the restless fortepiano line of Einsamkeit (Solitude), where Appl’s vocal was bold, and then to Der schwere Abend (The Sultry Evening) which was darker still, with a cold final line ‘to wish us both dead’. Thankfully the Requiem itself – a short Latin text – offered consolation and rest, as well as a rousing central section looking to the heavens.

This was a magnificent recital, with grace and power in equal measure from both performers, and the sound of the fortepiano a real treat in complement to Appl’s caramel tone. As a bonus we heard Mendelssohn’s Auf Flügeln des Gesanges (On Wings of Song), finishing in celebratory mood.

Repertoire

Benjamin Appl and Kristian Bezuidenhout performed the following songs (with timings on the BBC Sounds broadcast in brackets):

Schumann Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt Op.98a/6 (1:54); Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass Op.98a/4 (4:55); An die Türen will ich schleichen Op.98a/8 (all 1849)
Mendelssohn An die Entfernte Op.71/3 (1842) (9:56); Schilflied Op.71/4 (1832 (11:17); Frühlingslied Op.47/3 (14:08) 1839)
Zelter Harfenspieler I-III (18:03)
Loewe Herr Oluf Op.2/2 (24:18) Hinkende Jamben (29:51); Tom der Reimer (30:35)
Schumann 6 Gedichte von Nikolaus Lenau & Requiem, Op.90 (37:53). Individual songs: Lied eines Schmiedes (37:53), Meine Rose (39:05), Kommen und Scheiden (42:52), Die Sennin Schöne (44:00), Einsamkeit (46:08), Der schwere Abend (49:11), Requiem (50:49)

Encore – Mendelssohn Auf Flügeln des Gesanges Op.34/2 (56:07)

Further listening

Benjamin Appl has not yet recorded any of the repertoire in this concert, save the encore, but suitable recorded versions can be heard on this Spotify playlist:

Proms at … Cadogan Hall 3: The English Concert / Kristian Bezuidenhout

The English Concert / Kristian Bezuidenhout (harpischord, above)

Purcell (1659-95)
The Virtuous Wife (before 1694): Overture (1:45 on the broadcast link below)
The Fairy Queen (1692): Hornpipe (4:38)
The Virtuous Wife (before 1694) – First Act Tune (5:41)
The Indian Queen (1695): Rondeau (8:41)
Chacony in G minor (c1678) (10:21)
Marchand (1669-1732)
Pièces de clavecin, Book 1: Allemande (publ. 1702) (17:33)
de La Guerre (1665-1729)
Violin Sonata in D minor (publ. 1707) (20:46 – 35:45)
Telemann (1681-1767)
Sonata in A minor, TWV 43:a 5 (unknown date) (39:43 – 48:47)
Handel (1685-1759)
Trio Sonata in G major Op.5/4 (publ. 1739) (50:02 – end)

Cadogan Hall, Monday 5 August 2019

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

You can listen to this Prom on BBC Sounds here

This was a really interesting hour of music from the English Concert and director / harpsichordist Kristian Bezuidenhout, and it was all the more refreshing for a willingness to look beyond the more conventional repertoire you might have expected as part of the Proms’ look at 800 years of music in the Cadogan Hall chamber concerts this year.

Petroc Trelawny, always a consummate professional when introducing at the venue, gave helpful context behind the works chosen, and explained how each was looking to emulate the French style that was so fashionable thanks to the tastes and influence of Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’.

First up was Henry Purcell, who was of course a popular figure and well enough established in England – but the choices here were not conventional. The Virtuous Wife, a comedy for the stage (beginning at 1:45 on the broadcast link), is just one example of many works Purcell wrote for the theatre in England. In this performance the overture was perhaps a touch too virtuous to begin with, though by the time the music broke at 2:43 a natural tempo and phrasing had been reached. The Fairy Queen’s Hornpipe (4:38) was vigorous, with a satisfying twang to the theorbo strings of William Carter.

The First Act Tune (5:41) was pensive but nicely phrased, showing off Purcell’s rich chromatic spectrum, and was followed by a graceful Rondeau, dancing slowly but elegantly (8:41), before the Chacony (10:21), one of his most famous instrumental pieces that we often hear today for string orchestra. It is a powerful set of variations over a ‘ground’ (a pre-set bass and chord progression) that gathers in intensity.

Next we had solo harpsichord, Bezuidenhout showing off his instincts in an improvisatory Allemande by the French composer Louis Marchand (17:33), with some expansive harmonic twists. That was followed by a dazzling Violin Sonata no.1 in D minor by Élisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (20:46). Written in 1707 as part of a set dedicated to Louis XIV, it was deftly handled here by Tuomo Suni, with its six short movements marked as Prelude (20:46), Presto (23:20), Adagio (25:18), Presto-Adagio (26:00), Aria (29:53) and Presto (33:36). The Presto-Adagio showed not just only Suni’s clear tone, without vibrato, but the punchy ‘continuo’ accompaniment from Bezuidenhout and viola da gamba player Piroska Baranyay. A similarly crunchy sound inhabits the final Presto, after a graceful Aria.

Telemann’s enormous output can sometimes mask his achievements as a composer, and the Sonata in A minor – little known, it seems – showed itself to be an accomplished and dramatic piece, ‘praising the instrumental texture’ as Bezuidenhout explained. Bolstered by the double bass of Christine Sticher, the English Concert (above) really benefited from the extra depth to their sound, meaning a Trio Sonata had seven people on the platform managing the three parts!

The short suite made references to Poland, France and Italy in a Grave (39:43), Allegro – Adagio (40:32), Allegro (44:10), Largo e staccato (45:43) and final Allegro (46:15). The stylish performance had a rustic feel in the faster movements, with an earthy snap to the staccatos of the fourth and a brilliant cut and thrust to the final Allegro.
Finally Handel, and a brightly voiced Trio Sonata in G major Op.5/4, the kind of which he would surely have played with friends in his Brook Street flat in London. This performance played the piece in a different order to the norm, beginning with the ‘second’ movement, marked A tempo ordinario (50:02), which had an enjoyably full texture from the seven instruments, and then moving onto the ‘first’, an Allegro (53:55), where the violins took a more prominent role. An elegant Minuet (56:04) followed, then a Passacaille (58:02), with increasingly elaborate lines spun over a recurring bass line – which itself became enjoyably coarse.

An enlightening hour of music, then, which you are encouraged to enjoy on the link above.

Listen

The playlist below replicates the concert in available recordings, and includes the Gigue movement of the Handel which appears to have been omitted from the original concert:

Meanwhile to enjoy the many and varied delights of Purcell’s complete Theatre Music, the below recording from Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music will bring much pleasure:

Kristian Bezuidenhout plays Mozart at Wigmore Hall

Kristian Bezuidenhout plays Mozart piano music at Wigmore Hall

Kristian Bezuidenhout 2010 Photo: Marco Borggreve

Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano) – Wigmore Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 13 April 2015.

Listening link (opens in a new window):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05qdw80

on the iPlayer until 13 May

Spotify

In case you cannot hear the broadcast…Kristian Bezuidenout has recorded all of this music, save for the brief encore, as part of a complete series of Mozart’s solo piano works for Harmonia Mundi. A playlist of the works played in this concert can be found here

What’s the music?

Mozart – Piano Sonata in F major, K332 (c1783) (18 minutes) ((the ‘K’ number gives an indication of the work’s position in the Köchel catalogue of Mozart’s music)

Mozart – Adagio in F major (unknown) (6 minutes)

Mozart – Piano Sonata in D major, K284 (1775) (Dürnitz) (27 minutes)

What about the music?

mozart

The sound of the fortepiano (a very early form of the piano as we know it today) is definitely an acquired taste – and even then it has to be said not everybody acquires that taste. That is not to put you off listening to the music, but it is an advanced warning of sorts that this is a very different piano sound, one with sharp colours when played loudly. At times the sonorities approach that of a harpsichord, though with an instrument such as the one South African-born Kristian Bezuidenhout uses, a copy of an 1805 model, there is room for manoeuvre.

Kristian is in the process of recording all of Mozart’s work for the instrument, a sizeable canon that includes a number of memorable piano sonatas and several shorter but important standalone pieces. One of these is the Adagio inserted into the middle of the concert – though this is of doubtful authenticity, and may not be by Mozart at all.

The second sonata in this recital, K284, is almost twice as long as the first, and was completed in Munich for a friend of the composer’s, bassoonist Baron von Dürnitz.

Performance verdict

Kristian Bezuidenhout gives these pieces his all, leaving the listener in no doubt as to his total commitment to Mozart’s music. He adopts quite challenging speeds, the fast movements rushing along and even the slow ones being much faster than anticipated – at least in the case of the first sonata in the recital.

His right hand work is always very clear, especially when playing more than one note at once, so each of the inside parts can be heard. This is especially important with the fortepiano, where the notes do not necessarily sustain for as long.

If you are not a fortepiano enthusiast then hopefully Bezuidenhout’s graceful way with the Adagio in particular will go some way to winning you over.

What should I listen out for?

Piano Sonata in F, K332

1:37 – a genial beginning, but soon there is an outburst of storm and strife at 2:04, as Mozart wrenches the music into the minor key. Bezuidenhout exaggerates the contrasts between a relatively calm right hand and the occasionally stabbed notes in the left that give powerful energy to Mozart’s writing

8:31 – the slow movement, the middle of the three – and the most harmonically adventurous. Mozart enjoys some quite florid writing for the piano and uses the walking accompaniment to his advantage, writing music of unexpectedly profound expression. Bezuidenhout arguably plays it a bit too quickly here.

13:08 – a literal hammer blow starts this fast movement with a rapid clatter of notes. At times it sounds as though someone has sat on the lower end of the piano, such is the force of the playing! The fortepiano certainly brings alive the contrasts in Mozart’s writing for keyboard, and here Bezuidenhout uses it to bring out the bell-like figurations in the right hand. Towards the end there is a lovely, graceful touch from the pianist that brings us to a calm finish.

Adagio in F

21:26 – a tender, almost operatic piece of work where the right hand at times takes on the profile of a singer. There is a slightly mischievous element to the melody, which can overdo itself at times, but it is charming much of the time.

Piano Sonata in D, K284

29:18 – this piece starts with a flourish, and Bezuidenhout keeps a brisk tempo throughout. The first main theme is vigorous, the second a bit more thoughtful and graceful, especially when it appears the second time around at 31:18.

34:26 – a thoughtful second movement, and an airy one, with a lightness of touch that really suits the music. There is an attractive ‘question and answer’ between the hands.

39:18 – a long third movement, which is a theme and variations – a form in which Mozart excels. A relatively simple theme is heard to start with before the music heads through twelve very different reworkings of the source material, each one seemingly more difficult than the last! It is a chance for Mozart to really flex his compositional muscles. Of particular note is the variation at 44:31, where Mozart slows down rather. The variation finishing at 46:54 goes heavy on the bass, and is followed by a darker turn in the minor key. An unexpectedly tender episode at 51:36 finds the piano keys lightly brushed, the tempo slowed down dramatically. Finishes at 55:53

Encore

Mozart: Allemande from the Suite in C major, K399 (3 minutes)

57:21 – this short piece, described by the pianist as ‘enigmatic’, is part of a pastiche Mozart wrote, a Suite in the Style of Handel. It is surprisingly dark at times.

Want to hear more?

If more Mozart piano music is what you want, I would point you in the direction of some of the composer’s short and very profound single pieces. Two Rondos do the trick here, with a Fantasia and a late Adagio for good measure. All are played by Bezuidenhout, and included at the end of the Spotify playlist referenced above.

For more concerts click here

Connecting Bach with Mozart – Giuliano Carmignola and Kristian Bezuidenhout

Connecting Bach with Mozart – Giuliano Carmignola and Kristian Bezuidenhout link J.S. Bach with Mozart by way of three violin sonatas

carmignola-bezuidenhoutGiuliano Carmignola and Kristian Bezuidenhout – Wigmore Hall, live on BBC Radio 3, 16 February 2015. Photo © Ben Collingwood

Listening link (opens in a new window):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b051chkl

on the iPlayer until 17 March

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

For those unable to hear the broadcast I have put together a Spotify playlist, including Giuliano’s recordings of the Bach with harpsichordist Andrea Marcon, and the Mozart – which he has not yet recorded – with Mark Steinberg and pianist Mitsuko Uchida on Decca:

What’s the music?

J.S. BachSonata no.2 in A major for violin and keyboard BWV1015 (thought to be between 1717-1723) (13 minutes) (the ‘BWV’ number gives an indication of the work’s position in the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalogue)

J.S. BachSonata no.3 in E major for violin and keyboard BWV1016 (thought to be between 1717-1723) (15 minutes)

MozartViolin Sonata in A major K526 (1787) (21 minutes) (the ‘K’ number gives an indication of the work’s position in Mozart’s catalogue. This is no.526 of a total of 626 numbered published works)

What about the music?

This is a ‘period instrument performance’ – that is, played on instruments from or designed to sound like those in Bach and Mozart’s time. The BBC Radio 3 announcer Sara Mohr-Pietsch confirmed Carmignola’s violin is an Italian model dating from 1739, while Bezuidenhout used an early piano developed from an original of 1805.

Mozart wrote dozens of sonatas for violin and keyboard, but the later ones are generally regarded as his finest. This particular example was written around the same time as the opera Don Giovanni, and is dedicated to the memory of Mozart’s friend and fellow-composer Carl Friedrich Abel.

The two Bach works are not as often performed as his works for solo violin, but demonstrate his ease and flair with writing for the instrument. Violin and piano are very closely linked in this music.

The Bach connection comes through the friendship between Bach’s son Johann Christian – whose music is still frequently performed to this day – and Carl Abel. Both met the eight-year old Mozart and stayed in touch with him.

Performance verdict

Carmignola’s bright tone is ideal for the Bach, which could be dry in lesser hands. Here he brings out all the vocal elements in the writing, and is helped by strong support by Bezuidenhout, whose springy rhythms and nicely shaped phrases are a constant pleasure.

The Mozart is an exceptional performance, bringing deep emotion and uncertainty to the slow movement in particular. The grace with which both performers play is unusual in period-instrument playing, and the softness of tone from the fortepiano is beautiful.

The Bach works are a little less obviously expressive, but are extremely well played. What was abundantly clear – an often underestimated point – is just how much the players were listening to each other during performance, not to mention a clear enjoyment of the music!

What should I listen out for?

Bach Sonata no.2

4:49 – at first I actually wondered if the two instruments were tuning up, as they were playing a unison ‘A’! However it turned out to be the easy going start of a graceful slow movement, the first of four.

7:49 – quite a punchy beginning to the first fast music of the sonata, the instruments dovetailing their melodic lines and with several cleverly worked sequences. The music ends quite suddenly.

10:54 – marked ‘Andante’ (at a walking pace), this has purposeful movement despite the slower tempo, and a slightly sorrowful air. Carmignola gives some tasteful ornamentation to the melody.

13:49 – an energetic fourth and final movement. The movement between the violin and piano parts (‘counterpoint’) drives the music forwards.

Bach Sonata no.3

18:47 – a spacious but very expressive slow movement, marked ‘Adagio’. The profile of the violin melody is as if written for a singer, with a common five-note accompaniment for the fortepiano.

22:29 – a lively second movement, with a constant stream of dialogue (‘counterpoint’) between the two instruments, beautifully dovetailed in this performance.

25:29 – this may be a slow movement but there is a soft dance element. Eventually it peters away into almost nothing.

29:44 – a vigorous fourth movement, simply marked Allegro, where both violin and fortepiano work hard together and apart.

Mozart

35:43 – a colourful fast movement to begin with, with both instruments equally involved in the dialogue and sharing the themes. The piano has some particularly tricky runs in the right hand which Bezuidenhout appears to manage easily.

42:19 – a deeply profound piece of contemplation, where Mozart appears to be remembering his friend in music that alternates between hope and deep thought. The passages of ‘hope’) (from the start, for example) tend to be in the ‘major’ key, while the passages of darker introspection (45:28 for example) are rooted in the minor.

49:15 – to start with the violin and piano seem out of sync, with some elaborate rhythms from Mozart. The piano in particular is incredibly busy, with the left hand shadowing the right in melodic profile. The violin becomes more showy in the central section.

Encore

57:49 – A short and nippy encore, the last movement of J.S. Bach‘s Violin Sonata in B minor, BWV1014. This work was published as the first of a group of six – the works above being the second and third in the group.

Want to hear more?

As the link between this music is Johann Christian Bach, here is a link to a disc of ‘Six Favourite Overtures’, played by the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood:

For more concerts click here