Birdsong and Beethoven in Dresden’s Grand Garden Palace


DruckGermanyGermany Bernard Fort, Olivier Messiaen: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Palais im Grosser Garten, Dresden,  15.5.2016. (MC)

Beethoven, Kavakos Beethovenzyklus 1: Leonidas Kavakos (violin), Enrico Pace (piano),  Palais im Grosser Garten, Dresden, 16.5.2016. (MC)

Bernard Fort – 13 Preludes au Catalogue d’oiseaux
Olivier MessiaenCatalogue d’oiseaux, books 1-7

Beethoven – Violin Sonatas: No. 2, Op 12/2; No. 3, Op. 12/3; No. 6, Op. 30/1; No. 7, Op. 30/2

In recent years the Grand Garden Palace (Palais im Grosser Garten), Dresden has been hosting a number of festival recitals held in the hall on the upper floor. This Baroque building suffered significant war damage and the interior is currently in a patched up condition with bare red brick walls virtually devoid of plaster. It’s certainly not my favourite place to sit and enjoy a recital. The hall has a peculiar acoustic especially when a number of different instruments are being used although on that German National Public Holiday weekend at the two concerts that I attended in the packed hall the sound of the piano and violin-piano duo was certainly acceptable.

A remarkable artist Pierre-Laurent Aimard was the pianist for Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux. French composer Messiaen had a lifelong passion for ornithology and he was in his forties when he wrote his seven book piano cycle Catalogue d’oiseaux in thirteen movements each with a dedicated bird title and geographical region in France. Messiaen chose the piano to play his impressions of bird song as it was the only instrument able to play repeated notes quickly enough.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard; Photo: Marco Borgreve.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (c) Marco Borgreve.

Aimard is a wonderful pianist, whom I have seen perform in recital on several occasions playing mainly Ravel and Debussy programmes. Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux with its blocks of sound and dissonant chords is challenging repertoire for any pianist, not just technically and stylistically, as at almost three hours long it demands stamina yet Aimard seemed to take it in his stride. The evening’s programme started with music from another French composer Bernard Fort’s 13 Preludes au Catalogue d’Oiseaux written in homage to Messiaen which Aimard had commissioned in 2014. Prefaced with short bird recordings to my ear Fort’s Préludes were virtually indistinguishable from those of Messiaen which made the long recital a considerable challenge to sit through and listen to music of a very similar style. I could hear one or two members of the audience express their displeasure as I guess they realised the music was not what they were expecting. At the first interval a number of people left and even more trooped out at the second interval which made me wonder about the need to add Bernard Fort’s works which were so similar to an already challenging and lengthy programme. In fact Aimard had given a pre-concert talk which made, for those who had attended, almost an hour on top of three hours forty minutes performance time if the intervals are included. This was a marathon by anybody’s standards!

The next evening at the Palais im Grosser Garten was the programme titled Kavakos Beethovenzyklus the first of three recitals that will achieve the complete set of ten Beethoven sonatas for violin and orchestra performed by Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and Italian pianist Enrico Pace. No strangers to the Beethoven violin sonatas the partnership recorded the complete set in 2012 for Decca. Although today it’s the violinist who receives the majority of the plaudits Beethoven intended the sonatas to be for piano and violin. Tonight’s chosen works were Nos 2, 3, 6 and 7 from the composer’s mid-twenties to early-thirties with the renowned Sonata No. 5 ‘Spring’ and No. 9 ‘Kreutzer’ to be played in the next two recitals.

Enrico Pace. Photo credit: Marco Borgreve.
Enrico Pace (c) Marco Borgreve.

It was highly satisfying to witness the virtuosity and musicianship of Kavakos and Pace playing with commitment and a degree of expression that felt ideal. There was a great feeling of assurance here and striking was the relaxed freedom of these two artists, as if unencumbered by any predetermined decisions. My personal highlight was the light-hearted and witty Sonata No. 2 in A major that concluded with the minuet-like Allegro piacevole – a Rondo with both players conveying a sense of refinement with a really infectious appeal. Kavakos who had one or two intonation problems during the evening played the ‘Abergavenny’ Stradivarius (1724) which didn’t sound particularly remarkable in the acoustic but by contrast the Steinway that Pace was playing had a lovely timbre.

Michael Cookson