Lars Vogt at Wigmore Hall [Janáček, Schubert & Beethoven]

In the Mists
Piano Sonata in G, D894
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.111

Lars Vogt (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 7 July, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Lars VogtFor those who stayed, Lars Vogt’s encore (the first of Brahms’s Opus 117 Intermezzos) might well have offered possibilities of serenity and intimacy not always forthcoming in his three main works, all of which have been in his repertoire for many years.

I yield to no-one in my admiration for Vogt’s compelling and intelligent artistry – which extends into his passionate and eloquent talking about music, and which gives his playing a rare candour and, if it’s not too strong a paradox, a brand of highly reasoned spontaneity. However, even I was taken aback by some of his extremes of pugnacity. There are anecdotes of Janáček bashing expressivity out of the piano, and Vogt seem to be following suit in his playing of In the Mists. Vogt really ‘gets’ the idioms of Janáček’s fragments of expression that seem to underpin a text known only to him, and which extend and compress themselves, vanish ‘into the mist’ and re-emerge as slightly altered memories. The music is an extraordinary feat of subliminally grasped intuition, which chimes in with Vogt’s own mercurial insights, full of frustratingly evanescent detail, a complete mastery of the music’s foreground and background and a natural rapport with its understated nostalgia. But I still feel that the degree of sheer violence wasn’t justified – and I’ve heard him be much more restrained in this work – but nevertheless this uncompromisingly original music, which assumes so much in terms of the pianist’s imagination and maturity, came over as searingly truthful and on the edge.

Vogt also pushed contrasts of expression to the limit in his driven performance of Schubert’s G major Piano Sonata. I was very fed-up that he didn’t observe the first-movement exposition repeat, thus diminishing the impact of the epic and dramatic development section. Sure, this particular work can be sublimely discursive, the finale in particular, but it doesn’t respond well to finger-wagging compression, and Vogt’s ‘allegro assertivo’ in the first movement didn’t sound much like the composer’s Molto moderato marking, with a possible loss of way at the start of the fourth making its own comment on the wisdom of Vogt’s occasionally hectoring approach. Of course, there were some wonderful things – and his discreet virtuosity marks him out as a true Schubertian – for example, the volcanic contrast in the Andante were brimming with rhapsodic grandeur and the Trio was a mini-masterpiece of distracted, quasi-Mahlerian poetry, but why strain to impose your order when Schubert does it for you?

Another joy of Vogt’s playing is the range of sound he has at his disposal, much fuller and non-percussive for a thrilling first movement of Opus 111, in which Vogt’s vigour and directness were perfect partners for Beethoven’s tight, formal narrative. In the Schubert, Vogt had let the movements follow hard on each other. In the Beethoven, he let the first movement unravel to a perfectly poised silence before the start of the second’s Variations, in which, again, he opted for a fairly un-molto adagio, which made the third Variation a bit of an insecurity-inducing scramble. The trills were wonderfully controlled, and if Vogt didn’t quite deliver us and the music to another place, we glimpsed the possibility of transcendence. So like life.

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