22nd Singapore International Piano Festival 2015

Dynamic playing with sensitivity

Pianist Lars Vogt's suspenseful reading captured the imagination of listeners.
Pianist Lars Vogt's suspenseful reading captured the imagination of listeners.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

German Lars Vogt's performance captured audience's imagination

Review Concert


Victoria Concert Hall 
Last Saturday

One of the bonuses that a series like the Singapore International Piano Festival brings is the chance to hear a selection of high-calibre pianists taking on similar works by a composer.

Such was the case in German pianist Lars Vogt's recital, where he played the second of the two Schubert sonatas performed at this year's festival and a Beethoven sonata that was just heard last year.

At the start of the concert, delayed by 10 minutes presumably because of traffic closures related to the National Day Parade rehearsal, he explained to the audience that the short work by Schoenberg that he was to perform, the Six Little Piano Pieces, would be played twice that evening - at the beginning of each half and leading directly into the sonata to follow - to give listeners more chances to appreciate the unusual miniatures.

The eight-minute set certainly made for an eclectic prelude to Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 19, but the jury is out as to whether a simple span of silence would have been more apt before the sonata's dramatic opening chords.

Vogt cuts an imposing figure on stage, but he played with a wide range of touch and dynamics, coupled with acute sensitivity.

Two nights earlier, Imogen Cooper played Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 20 In A Major.

The contrast to this evening's Sonata In C Minor was striking.

Vogt's thicker piano tone and brisker tempos were most obvious and he seemed to take to heart Schubert's apparent references to Beethoven's late piano sonata style.

The result was a dramatic contrast to Cooper's more introspective and personal interpretation.

The Victoria Concert Hall staff unusually allowed latecomers to enter after the second movement, which inevitably affected the third movement, which had already begun.

This was an understandable call considering that the alternative would have been a total first half lockout.

Perhaps greater effort by the organisers and Sistic to alert patrons of impending traffic delays would have preempted this?

Vogt's repetition of Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces was played with greater flamboyance and freedom, but this time the melding of the close of the final piece into the opening of Beethoven's Sonata No. 32 In C Minor, Op. 111 was not convincing.

If his Schubert was dramatic and dynamic, his Op. 111 was even more so, with extreme tempo variations in the first movement. There was relentless drive, with listeners sped around blind corners at blistering speed.

He opened the second movement, a set of variations on a theme, more moderately, building up tempo over successive variations.

The heavily syncopated, almost jazz-like third variation was rollicking fun, if slightly exaggerated, and the only reservation was the slightly reticent closing chord of the sonata.

Brazilian legend Nelson Freire performed this sonata almost exactly a year ago at last year's festival, where he presented a classic, slightly dry reading.

Vogt explored the other end of the spectrum, with an unpredictable and suspenseful reading that captured the imagination of listeners, re-asserting the joy derived from listening to the broadest selection of artists and performances.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2015, with the headline 'Dynamic playing with sensitivity'. Print Edition | Subscribe