Proms Chamber Music – 5 (Lars Vogt)

Intermezzo in E flat, Op.117/1
Tänze mit verbundenen Augen [UK premiere]
Sonata in B flat, D960

Lars Vogt (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 15 August, 2005
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Lars Vogt is built on a great, bear-like frame. There is nothing ungainly about him, however. He glides onto the platform in immaculate control of his physical presence, modestly. He gives performances to match.

Brahms’s late piano pieces are short and intimate, and this Intermezzo is a lullaby written by a bachelor. And what a cool, softly cooing piece we heard. In such hushed limpidity, the baby stood no chance! The blessed repose of innocent sleep was only seconds away – the will of the gentlest of gods.

Technically, this was a marvel. Playing the piano softly requires far more finesse and technique than playing loudly. Here, and in the Schubert, Lars Vogt exhibited consummate artistry in his control over gradations from p to ppp. All the while, too, Vogt kept in motion the gentle rocking of his aural cradle, and Brahms’s melodic effusion ebbed and flowed, sometimes on the cusp of inaudibility, and the greatest volume would not have awoken even the lightest sleeper.

The same qualities were also integral to the Schubert. Vogt’s playing was soft and quiet – to the extent that even those sudden, loud interruptions, often played as a noise to wake the dead, came over as unequivocal yet moderated, stark yet not brusque.

Vogt presented Schubert’s ultimate sonata as an expression of spirit. His speeds were moderate, and in no way uncomfortable, pushed or strained. Vogt’s interpretation, too, was imbued with spirit. In his hands, the sonata was light and ethereal, otherworldly and sublime. This was, to modify Wordsworth, emotion re-visited in utterly transcendent tranquillity. I felt transported (somewhere) by this artist of huge talent, using his outstanding technique in the service of searching the inner soul of Schubert’s music.

But I enjoyed ‘Blindfold Dances’ far more – music by Vogt’s wife, Tatjana Komarova. Here, very simply, stylishly, and with great swagger, we had life presented as Blind Man’s Buff. The Blind Man clambered about clumsily in almost-articulate phrases, using the bass to middle register. The uncaught played with clutches of notes, mostly in the treble but descending, sometimes mockingly, towards the middle register.

The piece was more about probing the human-condition than the above might suggest. Agilely, Komarova used the sounds of the uncaught as variations on a theme unnecessary to state. I heard the blindfold person mocked as he searched for truths and failed to catch hold of them. I heard a tantalising part of some truth being revealed. I heard the offer of a close relationship, quickly withdrawn.

Above all, I heard Vogt’s style-of-playing change. I experienced a Vogt freed from the self-imposed restraints of reverence. Here Vogt was robust, forceful, loud, playful and skittish. I liked this Vogt very much. He showed me something I had missed in the Brahms and the Schubert: danger. Schubert knew he was declining and surely did “rage against the dying of the day” – but not with Vogt. Here the ‘heavenly length’ (and it was just that) came indeed from another realm: as I heard it, the music was from a Schubert already dead, speaking from the ‘other side’.

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