Lars Vogt Piano Recital

Author: 
Christopher Headington

Lars Vogt Piano Recital

  • Sonata for Keyboard No. 60
  • (4) Pieces
  • (5) Variations on a Theme of Franz Schubert
  • Sonata for Piano No. 18

I will not be the only person who remembers Lars Vogt as the fresh-faced and musicianly artist who came second in the 1990 Leeds Piano Competition, nor the only one who thought he could have won it, at least on the evidence of what was on television. I'm glad, therefore, that EMI have signed him up and that this debut disc recorded last June when he was 21 will lead to more recordings, including Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and the Grieg and Schumann concertos with Simon Rattle.
Most recital discs nowadays focus on one composer, but this one features four and is clearly designed to act as something of a showcase for Vogt's talents, although he has confined himself to German-Austrian repertory. The Haydn sonata is a crisp little work which he plays with admirable neatness yet also with a natural warmth that manifests itself in tonal shading, discreet pedalling and that proper kind of rubato that one doesn't notice until one listens for it. I'm impressed too by the unfussy but well-focused voicing, for example in the development section of the first movement, and the dynamic range which is quite large but never out of scale. The Adagio is taken more slowly than usual, but Vogt holds it together by fine management of time and tone, and the finale bubbles with life and wit. In all, the playing has great charm without the winsomeness that other pianists occasionally give us in music of this period.
From this to Brahms's tragic B minor Intermezzo (beginning Op. 119) is a big musical jump. Vogt doesn't pull out the big expressive stops too soon, but the mood is still there from the start and he gives it a moving breadth. He is no less responsive in the other three pieces, warm without sentimentality and displaying strength as well as sensitivity.
Full marks to Vogt also for including a non-repertory work—and for EMI for letting him do so. I had never heard of Helmut Lachenmann, but found him in Grove and read that he lectures at Hanover, where Vogt still studies, so that may be the link. His Schubert Variations of 1958 are cleanly and idiomatically written, if on the dry side, and receive a persuasive performance which I much enjoyed. They don't in the least present the ''unmistakable symptoms of advanced musical disintegration'', that we read of in the booklet essay—but then, the writer is inclined to hyperbole anyway and also declares that in Haydn ''the individual note is dynamite''!
The big Schubert sonata that ends this programme should be the highlight of it and does not disappoint, though this is in no way a sensational performance, just one which is firmly and unfussily eloquent. Vogt plays it, as it seems to me, not for effect but simply as if he loves it with a chaste, intelligent love. The outstanding quality of all this playing is, thank goodness, matched by an excellent piano that can be mellow as well as brilliant—important in the Schubert with its awkward piano writing and a need to differentiate pp and ppp—and a fine recording made in a Cologne radio studio. I have rarely been so impressed by a debut recital disc.'

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