festival de piano La Rouque d’Anthéron 2020
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In glorious pianists at La Roque d’Anthéron Festival

by Pétra Wauters

A dream set, a new stone in the edifice of the “Beethoven event” celebrated at La Roque d’Anthéron Festival in this gorgeous spot south of France near Aix-en-Provence.

On Friday August 7th, three concerts marked out the day to offer 36 Sonatas to the public: some pianists were present from the morning including Kojiro Okada, Nicholas Angelich, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. In the afternoon, festival-goers met up with Claire Désert, Emmanuel Strosser François Frédéric Guy, Manuel Vieillard.

At 9 p.m., the third part programmed the sonatas n ° 12, 13, 14, known as Moonlight, the 15 and the 16. In the order of appearance on stage, Nicholas Angelich, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Yiheng Wang and finally, Emmanuel Strosser.

Developed throughout the composer’s creative life, the 32 Sonatas are one of those confessional works which Beethoven himself indicated that he deposited there throughout his life. The opportunity is perfect to hear them this year at La Roque d’Anthéron in their entirety, following the order in which they were composed and in the interpretation of confirmed pianists, beethovenians of always, to which joined five of their students, young pianists on the verge of promising careers

Nicolas Angelich. Festival international de La Roque d’Anthéron 2020.
Photo @Christophe Grémiot

Friday evening begins with sonata n ° 12 interpreted by Nicolas Angelich, a marvel, of which we especially know the funeral march, a “rough diamond” march that the pianist shines under his expert fingers, long fingers that rub and caress keys looking for more sparkle. The piano is by turns wise and peaceful and the beat of time by a barely audible left hand invites us to listen. A magical invitation. Then the piano becomes deep and sometimes a little too austere at the start of the concert. But on the other hand, one is disturbed by the exquisite lyricism of the andante, the theatricalization of the discourse.

We may have noticed a little too much theatricalization in the pianist’s playing, and also some approximations, but Nicholas Angelich is a great among the great, he knows how to pick us up again at any time. There is no equal when it comes to highlighting a detail with natural eloquence and emphasizing superb accents to symbolize a breath.

We follow the beautiful musical discourse of the pianist, from the Andante con variazioni, to the Scherzo allegro molto, a scherzo that jostles us and surprises us, because it “happily” precedes the funeral march. The work shatters into a thousand pieces, a thousand shards, we were talking about diamonds and the image is right. Yet everything in Beethoven is complicated, whether it be the expression, the piano language, or the form. But in the stands, the master of Bonn brings us immense appeasement thus served by Nicolas Angelich.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Festival international de La Roque d’Anthéron 2020.
Photo @Christophe Grémiot

Sonata n ° 13 interpreted by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is also beautiful, we can prefer n ° 12, but what a pianist, and how well Beethoven suits him! The musician offers us a beautiful piano, flawless, balanced, refined. Nothing dizzying, we are more in a “happy medium” where disagreement and affectation have no place. Even in Allegrod, an almost frenetic vivacity, the pianist never does too much, he takes us by the hand on this trajectory towards the light.

This sonata seems simpler to us at first glance than most of Beethoven’s sonatas, but make no mistake about it. There are many climates in it and its changing moods are not easily translated. We held our breath listening to the dazzling Adagio con Expressione. Piano singing flourishes freely, passionately. This sonata is not lacking in darkness, but also in virtuosity. We still take full measure in the Finale, Allegro vivace, of heartbreaking beauty.

Yiheng Wang. Festival international de La Roque d’Anthéron 2020.
Photo @Christophe Grémiot

Sonata No. 14 is brought to us by a 24-year-old Chinese talent, Yiheng Wang. It is famous, this sonata, called “Moonlight” with its meditative slow movement which contrasts strongly with the final storm. The pianist makes his piano sing, and the “nocturnal” atmosphere that emerges from this first movement is perfectly suited int the decor of Florans Park,

Besides this, the century-old trees nicely lit, the night that settles in and the moon as a witness … The young pianist is certainly gifted, he knew how to be delicate, but when the arpeggios under the fingers of the young man are unleashed a little too much, when the storm rages in the entrails of the keyboard, one finds oneself scanning the sky.

Could this be an omen? No, all is well, we can listen to the rest, happiness. Sonatas n ° 15 and n ° 16 are played by Emmanuel Strosser, another essential pianist.

Emmanuel Strosser. Festival international de La Roque d’Anthéron 2020.
Photo @Christophe Grémiot

Very appreciated also by his partners, because undoubtedly the pianist has a sense of sharing, miles away from certain pianists, so egocentric. “36 Beethoven Sonatas” “to share” with other pianists is something that suits him well. A great project. Thus carried by the happiness of playing “as a team”, he begins Sonata No. 15 happily, visibly very happy to be there.

It immediately sets the very bucolic and light atmosphere of the first movements, with a game of striking mastery. Everything seems so clear to us. It’s as if the musician was “explaining” Beethoven to us. He puts him within our reach. Even the original Scherzo becomes easy to listen to, thanks to this clear and limpid playing. However, the pianist knows “to fly too”, as the Rondo proves: Allegro ma non troppo, which finishes this sonata sovereignly. Emmanuel Strosser suggests that we conclude with sonata n ° 16. Astonishing piece with little heard rhythmic effects.

We marvel at the beautiful play of the pianist’s hands that we never take our eyes off of. We love the extremely elegant Adagio Grazioso and we leave each other in apotheosis, with the Rondo Allegretto the pianist delivers us with generosity and a few notes of humor. Another beautiful evening, with great pianists, regulars of the Festival de la Roque d´Anthéron, which we love to meet every year.

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