In the Mists
Piano Sonata in G, D894
Lars Vogt (piano)
Cadogan Hall, London
Monday, August 30, 2010
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Are our accepted notions of time simply an illusion? It is a strange reality that a programme lasting under an hour can create the sensation of having taken far, far longer. Of course, late Janáček and late Schubert – ambivalent unsettling music that leaves much unsaid – draws one into other worlds, but at the end of this recital one had the sensation of having traversed an enormous, bleak landscape leaving one – rather as with “Winterreise” – with more questions unanswered than resolved.
One of the particular pleasures of these chamber concerts is the brief interview at their centre. Lars Vogt rightly used the expression "The soul is under attack" to describe these works, alluding to the Janáček as "full of blood". In the Mists, itself an ambiguous title, dates from a period in the composer's life when it was far from clear that his music would ever be accepted by the wider world. In these four aphoristic pieces Vogt caught perfectly the violent contrasts between the calm, hieratic moments and sudden violent eruptions, between lyricism and those jagged themes which suddenly hurl themselves out at the unsuspecting listener. This is music of dangerous unpredictability.
Even more unnerving was the Schubert, one of only three sonatas published during Schubert's lifetime. As with Janáček, it is the sudden eddies and undercurrents, that constant sense of underlying danger, of not knowing what lies round the next corner which adds to the fascination. It opens with the most Elysian of statements but the shadows quickly lengthen before two titanic eruptions; all of this Vogt achieved effortlessly and without recourse to the extremely slow tempo which Sviatoslav Richter used to employ in this work. In the slow movement there is a constant oscillation between hope and despair, perfectly caught here and quintessentially Schubertian.
Only in the Minuet did Vogt overplay his hand, making rather too much of its climaxes and leaving one with the feeling that the point could perhaps have been made with less effort, but by contrast the Trio was quite magically voiced, a moment where time stood still. The finale – an Allegretto – is perhaps the most difficult movement of all, a kind of discursive moto perpetuo but in slow motion, the theme repeating itself endlessly but in many different guises before finally coming to rest in silence. Here Vogt succeeded in taking listeners with him on each successive digression. This was extremely fine and probing Schubert playing. No encore was offered and none was needed.