The Utzon Room was filled to capacity when Sarah Grunstein introduced the sonatas she would perform in her recital this warm Thursday evening.
She explained how Beethoven’s Sonata No.15 in D Major, Op.28 was the last piano sonata he wrote using the classic four-movement structure. Named “Pastorale” by one of Beethoven’s early publishers, the title is mostly descriptive, although there is an undertone of moving energy in the timpanic bass line, which begins calmly and builds up into bursts of tension. This is counterbalanced by a simple primary theme on top, ending with staggering arpeggios, with Sarah’s fingers flying across the keyboard towards the end.
In the second movement the bass line opens with staccato semiquavers, giving a “pizzicato” effect, which contrasts with the almost speech-like upper parts. Sarah described the whole sonata as being almost orchestral in texture, with every movement having a strong, distinctive bass line, supporting top lines with different characteristics and “orchestral timbres”.
After the applause died, Sarah Grunstein went on to describe the turbulent Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35 by Chopin, which includes the iconic Funeral March as the third movement. This was written two years before the rest of the sonata and was later performed at his own funeral. Sarah Grunstein played the opening bars of this movement very loudly, as if to wake the dead with impending doom. This she contrasted beautifully with the sweet magical melody of the central section. It is always difficult to bring fresh light to works that are almost clichéd in their popularity, and that have been adapted in so many different ways. It was refreshing to hear the original work played right in front of you.
After Interval Sarah treated us to Schumann’s Carnaval Op. 9. Again, she gave an eloquent introduction. She explained how Schumann was fascinated by disguises and that this composition represents a masked ball. It is a degustation of twenty-one small pieces, each representing a different character. The guest list includes literary figures, characters from the Commedia dell’Arte (Pierrot, Arlequin, Pantalone, Colombine), colleagues, friends, himself (as Floristan and also Eusebius), his future wife Clara (Chiarina), and musicians such as Paganini and Chopin, whom he greatly admired. Sarah Grunstein brought out the delightful quirkiness of these characters with her fingers skipping over the keyboard. I’m sure I recognised Chopin.