At Mostly Mozart, Aimard Breathes New Life into Beethoven

18/08/2019

Mostly Mozart Festival 2019 – Beethoven, Schubert: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra / Gianandrea Noseda (conductor), David Geffen Hall, New York City. 2.8.2019. (DS)

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No.4

Schubert – Symphony No.9

There are musicians who play, and there are those who interpret. The latter group are fewer in number, requiring standing out from the many monotonous versions of repertoire played correctly and recognizably — like reproductions of an original long gone. Great interpreters bring not only a spark of individuality, but also a studied understanding. They can capture a contemporary moment while simultaneously revealing past influence and producing an innovative clarity. The listener goes home moved, maybe even transformed. One recalls these performances for years, even decades — reveling in the memory of having witnessed a masterpiece.

Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard is one of these interpreters. At this year’s Mostly Mozart Festival, Aimard infused Beethoven’s colossal Fourth Piano Concerto with an extraordinary pastiche of styles, clearly culled from his expertise across the repertoire. In the playful opening exposition, Mozartian classicism led, while in the Andante, passages developed with a sheen of Chopinesque abandon, before the pianist created a sublime stillness with a Ligeti-infused isolation of each individual note. (Who other than Aimard could transform the classical form into an equally satisfying modernist moment?) And in the final Rondo, Aimard echoed his Lisztian series of concerts from a decade ago, as if the 19th-century star-studded swooner pianist/composer were sitting before us.

Aimard’s interpretation captured an essential Beethoven meaning — that his work remains relevant at all times, from the past to the present. (Classical music is not dead.) Aimard’s approach might be called post-modern — not to be confused with disjointed, removed from its original meaning, or at risk of being destroyed by shallowness through too many stylistic overlays.

But Aimard’s true expertise showed through in his spectacular ability to thread these messages of century-crossing compositional style with a consistent connection to the purity of classical forms, motivic unfolding, and gripping melodies. He elevated the listening experience. Beethoven’s Fourth took on the new without removing any of the familiar expectations of an old favorite. Aimard guided us with a kaleidoscopic lens, making the concerto more mesmerizing than ever.

Conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra had much to live up to. Nevertheless, true excellence is contagious. In a burst of unwavering energy and excitement, the ensemble followed the Beethoven with a quick-tempoed Schubert Ninth Symphony. While this reading communicated more of a reproduction than a sparkling original, it was relayed with a sense of joy and sensitivity. Noseda conducted with reverence and bravado — a pleasure to behold.

Daniele Sahr

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