In recent times, pianist Hans Richter-Haaser has established a name as ossibly the most distinguished Beethoven specialist since Schnabel. It was easy at his recital last night (Bulawayo City Hall) to see why.
His intellectual authority and architectural grasp were obvious at once in the two early works – the C minor Sonata, Op. 10, No. 1, and the Op. 34 Variations in F. The faultless poise of his readings did not preclude humour (as in the playful second subject in the Sonata’s first movement), violence (the dramatic coda of the finale), or gentleness (the final reprise of the variations’ theme), but these features were rightly held subservient to the relative formality of these early pieces.
In the later works he began to take risks. The hammered, obstinate octaves in the first movement of the F major Sonata, Op. 54, had the authentic, compulsive rudeness of Beethoven’s middle years, and Herr Richter-Haaser’s possessed but superbly calculated account of the companion “Waldstein” Sonata was an unalloyed triump – an astonishing performance.
I thought, though, that the moto perpeuo finale of the F major Sonata, taken at a faster speed than in Herr Richter-Haaser’s own recording, ran slightly out of control in the final exciting moments. I also felt – despite the pianist’s enormous emotional commitment – that the momentum and integrity of the first movement of the C Minor Sonata, Op. 111 (Beethoven’s last), were lost in some over-observance of Beethoven’s tempo and expression markings, and in a certain loss of control at the climax. But he gave a tremendous account of the ineffable Arietta finale. His pianissimo playing was withdrawn and truly inning, the legato expressive yet appropriately lean, and the trills and figurations of the great quasi-cadenza luminous and fulfilled. It was a memorable account of awesomely great music.