Germany Musikfest Berlin 2016 – Hommage à Pierre Boulez: Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Tamara Stefanovich (piano), Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie, Berlin 12.9.16. (MC)
Boulez: Douze Notations für klavier (1945)*; Première Sonate für klavier (1946)*; Deuxième Sonate für klavier (1946/48)**; Troisième Sonate für klavier (1955/57)*; Formant 3: Constallation-Miroir; Formant 2: Trope; Incises für klavier (version 2001)**; Une page d’éphéméride für klavier (2005)*; Structures pour deux pianos, Deuxième Livre (1951/61): Chapitre I; Chapitre II
This well attended piano recital at the Kammermusiksaal of the Philharmonie, Berlin was in honour of the memory and work of Pierre Boulez who died in January 2016. One of the foremost and most controversial of all post-war composers Boulez was a pianist himself and knew the instrument intimately. Owing to his understanding of the instrument he was able to innovatively remodel piano writing which created ramifications for the music world.
Comprising seven works the playing was shared by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich coming together for the final work of the even, Structures pour deux pianos. Both pianists gave a short talk about each work they were to play. Played by Aimard the opening work, a fledgling collection of piano pieces, Douze Notations was written in 1945 when Boulez was aged 20 and shows influences of Olivier Messiaen and René Leibowitz with whom Boulez was studying. Containing a range of moods and testing the range of the instrument Notations has become a leading work in his output but had to wait 40 years before publication.
Next came the three piano sonatas written between the period 1946/57 which have become influential works in piano literature. Aimard stayed at the piano for the First Sonata a work cast in two movements which contains a strong sense of exploration. The opening movement has a moderate tempo and the second much quicker is in the manner of a near frenzied toccata. Following the first sonata by two years the second sonata, lengthier and designed in four movements, is more ambitious in scale. Stefanovich was at the keyboard and I was struck by the sudden often dramatic changes in mood and the tautness of the writing. The third sonata was composed between 1957/58 and here Aimard played the two published movements taking Constallation-Miroir before Trope. Maybe the writing didn’t feel as angry as the earlier works and leaps are especially noticeable.
Composed in 1994 Incises was played by Stefanovich in the composer’s revised version from 2001. Containing an improvisatory feel I was struck by the stark contrasts of textures with rather less extremes of dynamic. Aimard took the most recent work on the programme Une page d’éphéméride written in 2005. A short work at around five minutes this is a stunning mix of ideas with broad dynamic and tempi. Often the music had a motionless quality as if becalmed before emitting a sudden burst of energy.
Aimard and Stefanovich came together for the final work of a long and demanding progamme for the Structures pour deux pianos: Deuxième Livre. Composed in 1951/61 with Structures I Boulez said he wanted to eradicate every trace of convention. In 12 sections this is a work that feels like serialism has achieved its decisive conclusion. Structures II recycles and reworks material from Structures I and feels like a more integrated whole. Here Boulez allows the performers to manage episodes themselves as the work progresses which Aimard and Stefanovich indicated by raising their hands.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich acquitted themselves marvellously in these challenging yet rewarding works and it would be hard to imagine more dedicated and well prepared playing. For their endeavours both players certainly deserved the enthusiastic audience approval.