In the last Piano Sonata in C minor op. 111 by Ludwig van Beethoven, the german master concludes the enormous macrocosm of his 32 piano sonatas, which Hans von Bülow rightly called the “New Testament of Piano Playing”. The two-part work with its defiantly combative gesture of the first movement, which follows the traditional sonata form quite conservatively, and the supernatural transfiguration of the subsequent Arietta with variations can be understood as a kind of „transition“ from „this world side“ world into transcendental spheres „from beyond“. The interpreter must not only master numerous “profane” technical hurdles, but also the degree migration between the contrasting antipodes of gripping „joie de vivre“ and angry rebellion on the one hand, and later then a mildly toned review of a lived and completed life on the other hand, in the end a mystical – meditative mood with a peaceful release transformed from earthly existence. This requires the interpreter to have all available creative prudence and a feeling for the great structural architecture of extensive thematic evolution processes.
The “Variations on a Theme by Corelli” Op. 42 of the Russian Sergei Rachmaninoff represent a stylistically expressive world of a completely different nature. Here, a theme borrowed from the early popular “La Follia” – hit melody is leaded to all ‚highs and lows‘ with virtuoso pianistic means and compositional imagination as well as late romantic to impressionistic colored harmonies and compositorical techniques. Virtuoso figures and garlands adorn the inherently simple theme as well as reminiscences of traditional sentence forms such as Fugato and Aria, which culminate in an intoxicatingly brilliant finale.
Following on from this, Rachmaninov’s musical „foster father“ and role model Peter I. Tchaikovsky celebrates the melancholy depths of the much-cited “Russian soul” in his “Meditation” Op. 72 No. 5. Here, a calmly flowing vocal line becomes pianistic in the middle section, with a steady 9/8 beat effectively increased, and then return to the quiet starting point.
The grand finale of the evening is the monumental Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt. In this summit work of romantic piano literature, Liszt not only explodes previous limits of pianistic virtuosity but also devises a completely new concept of a sonata form: The four movements of the typical sonata form previously known especially in Beethoven’s works appear unified and summarized as a large-scale one-movement cycle. The traditional functional parts of the traditional classical sonata movement, such as exposition, performance and recapitulation, are alternately interlinked with improvisational, free, cadence-like insertions as well as lyrical episodes – two recognizable main motifs appear through new, sophisticated thematic variants, enlargements and continuations in constantly new light. Another third theme in a form more solidified as a formally structured fixture is sticking together the extravagant thematic – motivic activity and interplay at several key points. The explosively exaggerated „steely hammered“ double octaves of the brilliant final coda as an explosive climax, however, do not have the last word – with three floating, delicately spotted chords in pianissimo, the excessive pianistic and compositional par force ride falls back on its absolute motivic “primeval cell” – a quiet one , lonely tone “H” in the lowest bass register. A milestone of the genre Piano Sonata in the 19th century!