Gerhard Oppitz – Beethoven piano sonatas

Last night I went to Angel Place for this recital. Herr Oppitz played the following Beethoven sonatas:

Sonata No.1 in F minor, Op.2, No.1
Sonata No.4 in E flat, Op.7
Sonata No.22 in F, Op.54
Sonata No.23 in F minor, Op.57

The last of these (posthumously nicknamed Appasionata) is the most well-known, but almost every pianist has probably learnt at least the first movement of Sonata No 1: it was certainly the first “real” sonata movement I tackled, after the two mini-sonatas of Op 49.  Of the four, the E flat sonata is probably the least often heard in recitals.

Oppitz is not a flamboyant player, notwithstanding the occasional stamping of his feet at a big finish and a mannerism where he lifts his hands rather suddenly from the keys after an emphatic end to a phrase. Even in the fast movements, his performance eschewed superficial excitement. Some of his passage work sometimes sounded a little lumpy or clumpy (delivered in handfuls of notes rather than the proverbial row of pearls), but his technique is very secure so that even this slight clumpiness must have been a matter of stylistic choice. There was little sense of virtuosity, even when he was doing some extraordinary things: the focus was on the music rather than the performance.

As I mentioned in relation to his performance of the Mozart Jeunehomme concerto last week, more gravely eloquent music is his particular forte (not that I mean, haha, that he plays such music loudly.) I wonder if this is a question of temperament, because something of the same aspect presented itself in his approach to Beethoven, especially to the minuet movements, which he played a little more slowly than I have heard them played by mony. This was particularly notable in the minuet of Op 2 No 1, which seemed to just glide into being.

The really distinctive thing about Oppitz’s style was his control of sonority. He was very sensitive to the sonorities of different registers of the piano, but could also create beautiful effects when the whole box of strings was set into vibration. I also particularly liked some of his fast but soft playing (which I would think of as texture rather than sonority). This focus on sonority may well be associated with the “clumpiness” of his runs which I referred to earlier (and I have to stress that it was a very slight thing) because both speak of Oppitz’s desire to take the music as a whole, or at least in handfuls, rather than simply note by note.

All of which just shows how inadequate words are to deal with musical values, and especially my words.

The concert was well attended, though I thought it might (after the Beethoven bonanza) have been even fuller. Angel Place has started selling little sandwiches at the refreshment bar. Parking was a breeze and the drive home was quick and easy. After the turbulence of The Paper will be Blue earlier in the day, this was all very consoling.

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