I have to confess that due to the once in a lifetime confluence of “Vivid”, an important AFL match and a Rugby fixture, I was unable to reach Christ Church in time to hear more than the ending of Beethoven’s Apassionata sonata, enough only to ascertain that the increasingly familiar Sydney based pianist, Chris Cartner was in great form, handling the last movement with its tricky presto finale with aplomb.
The Brahms Sonata no 3 in F minor made up the second half of the programme. It was a delight to have the opportunity to hear this rarely performed work in the comfortable environment with its remarkably sympathetic acoustics. For a work heard so seldom, a lot has been written about its complicated and unusual structure and its length of forty minutes. Written in 1853 when the composer was only twenty, it was completed over a short time span and was the last of his works to be reviewed by Brahms’ friend and mentor Robert Schumann before the latter’s disastrous breakdown. Having completed this work so early, Brahms wrote no more in this genre, his piano pieces being restricted to groups of short works such as his well-known Intermezzi.
The first movement starts dramatically and develops in sonata form through quieter episodes. It includes the five note figure with the same rhythm as the opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony which recurs in the third and fourth movements and was avowed as deliberate by the composer. After weaving between quiet and loud passages, there is a wild, prolonged coda which ends in the major mode. A lyrical slow movement, whose original score bears a poetic reference, features are numerous changes of key and tempo and again features a climactic coda which ends in an unrelated key. The classical Scherzo which makes up the third movement features a demonic theme which is suddenly interrupted by a slow and introspective Trio featuring the “Fate” motif before returning to the original maelstrom. Next is an Intermezzo subtitled “backward glance” which features a funeral march containing Beethoven’s theme in a drum roll setting. The Finale is in Rondo form but frequently strays off the beaten track and runs to a coda to end all codas which ends as in classical tradition in the major equivalent of the home key.
This was quite an undertaking by the English born pianist and he did not disappoint. He had no difficulty with the long arpeggio passages and handled Liszt-like bounces from low to high octaves in both hands. More important, he showed a great degree of feeling particularly in slower passages as in the second movement which was really memorable.
So why is this piece so rarely heard? I feel it is because it is too structural and lacks the usual spontaneity of Brahms’s works.
A very enjoyable recital at a great venue and I’ll book a hotel room for the next one and walk!