A strong case could be made for the proposition that the anger of one man changed the whole course of Western music. Beethoven’s letters abound with distress at his deafness, his social ineptitude and at the shallowness of a society which fawned on the nobility but patronized and exploited genius.
His music gives even more poignant evidence of his dilemma. It is charged with savage anger, rambunctious humour and the humanity wich seldom found personal dealings in making music a vehicle for psychological drama, he was the first modern, the first romantic.
Hans Richter-Haaser is a pianist who probably better than all his rivals in exposing the subjective core of Beethoven’s musical processes. He plays the drama with fierce commitment, pushing his extensive technique to its limits to keep up the fury and excitement.
The high points of his recital in Bulawayo on Saturday evening were precisely those moments where action is the most intense. His reading of the austere 32 Variations in C minor was magnificent, baleful, grand and uncompromisingly single-minded.
Equally illuminating was his performance of the early E flat sonata, Op. 7. He scaled down his tone, but missed no chance of highlighting every quirk and idiosyncrasy with which Beethoven had begun to transform material whose debt to Mozart and Haydn was still apparent.
I felt reservations about the first movement of the “Waldstein” sonata, Op. 53. Richter-Haaser’s headlong plunge into the music left little room for progressive unfolding of the musical argument, and above all else Beethoven was a great master of development, of sonata form.
The F major andante found the pianist more expansive and relaxed, and thre was some fine legato playing.
While technically more commanding, his reading of the last sonata, in C minor, Op. 111, was not as moving as the performance he gave during his last visit
Certainly the first movement was powerful and compelling, but he seemed to penetrate with less assurance into the transcendent peace of the Arietta.
By any standards, though, it was an impressive account, disappointing only in comparison with the glories one knows he can find in the Arietta.