thu 13/06/2024

Gabriele Carcano, Fidelio Orchestra Cafe - fresh, funny and focused Beethoven | reviews, news & interviews

Gabriele Carcano, Fidelio Orchestra Cafe - fresh, funny and focused Beethoven

Gabriele Carcano, Fidelio Orchestra Cafe - fresh, funny and focused Beethoven

The anniversary composer's wit at its most revelatory in this instalment of a sonatas cycle

Gabriele Carcano at the Fidelio Orchestra CafeBoth images by Matthew Johnson

Perhaps it’s just the conventional mind which celebrates the pathos, tragedy and triumph in Beethoven’s music at the expense of his humour. And that’s the one aspect of the composer which has been a constant revelation – to me, at any rate – in his anniversary year. Too often the laughs have been solitary, listening to CDs or watching online.

On Saturday night, in the warm and friendly atmosphere of the Fidelio Orchestra Café, the pleasure could be audibly shared in two of the composer’s wittiest and most surprising piano sonatas, and amplified by the revelation of another major Beethoven interpreter, Gabriele Carcano, in the latest instalment of his cycle.

On this evidence, Carcano is the pianist I want to guide me further through the revelations live. His sound is full and direct – you could feel the action of the piano reverberating on the table-top - and most often pedal free, his subtleties infinite but without the imposition of a self-conscious interpretation. Of the three performances I’ve heard this year of the “Tempest” Sonata, Op, 31 No. 2 in D minor, this was the most straightforward, unleashing progressively the biggest yet clearest storms from thoughtful incantations in the first movement. All the same, I’ve note heard the Adagio work in one long unfolding like this before; usually you’re waiting for the heart-easing tune to emerge after all the fragments. That it was exceptionally moving second time around was thanks to the cumulative effect. And the rolling of the waves in the finale was all the more effective after the persistence of the unforeseen in the earlier sonatas of the evening. Gabriele CarcanoThere is already a virtue in hearing the “Tempest” in the company of its predecessor. The vocalizings that come out of the spellbinding arpeggios in the first-movement recap are like those of a master singer playing Prospero after the posturings of the Prima Donna in Op. 31 No. 1’s delightfully flabbergasting central aria – a parody, surely, of bel canto show-offery long before Rossini and Bellini got to work (Carcano reminded us that Beethoven was a pupil of Mozart’s rival in opera Salieri). I’d take the comparison even further: the solo becomes a duet when a basso takes up the tune, and the soprano flips into even more elaborate twittering display. It’s a very long aria – the heavier aspect of Beethoven’s humour is that he loves to go on and on – but not without its darker side. Carcano also mentioned Jean Paul’s maxim that humour in music is the art of the unexpected, and one can turn that on its head by asserting that pathos in a humorous context is unexpected too, as it was here.

After our audible delight in the witty end of the sonata, Carcano noted what he’d written at the top of the last page of his score, from Alfred Brendel, a sometime mentor. There’s a variant of it in a New York Times interview: “anyone who plays Beethoven's Op. 31, No. 1, and cannot at the very least make listeners smile should become an organist.” On the evidence of this, where every little quirk and insistence, starting with the deliberately out-of-sync left and right hands in the first movement, made its effortlessly funny mark, Carcano will not need to give up the day job and take up the organ.

His opening account of Op. 10 No. 2 in F major similarly made us wonder at the ingenuity of Beethoven’s ever-surprising wit in the outer movements, while the flow of the more serious middle movement justified the encore, a subtly nuanced Schubert Moment musicale No. 3, The human scene beyond the window complemented Beethoven's first finale beautifully – a somewhat comical running figure as the rapid motion of the finale got underway, later mirrored in police sirens and roaring motor bikes heightening the terror of the tempest later in the recital. Everything about these privileged concerts in the café space both connects one to the outside world and heightens one’s sense of it. All this in between energising, life-affirming bouts of Zimerman, Rattle and the LSO in Beethoven concertos at St Luke's (more on that when - hopefully, rather than if - the Barbican Beethoven marathon happens on Thursday). Roll on Carcano’s next instalment, which among other things. will complete the Op 31 series with No. 3.

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