Louis Lortie
Piano Recital
Sunday, 9 August 2009 at 8:00pm

Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson


It is always a pleasure to hear a first-class performer at the height of his powers. Louis Lortie, playing at the Chan Shun Concert Hall, was passionate and economical, powerful yet delicate.

Mozart's Sonata in A minor, K. 310 is one of the very few Sonatas which he wrote in a minor key. It was composed when Mozart was in disastrous trouble and for once this comes out in his work. Lortie stripped away much of the 18th century charm and from the opening chords presented an emotional and unsettling interpretation.

Lortie elicited a huge sound from the loaned Fazoli piano. Heavy dotted rhythms, crashing chords and a fast pace plunged the audience directly into the music with the first bars. The second theme, full of running sixteenths, was by contrast as light as air, a fragility carried into the second andante movement. The final Presto was full of excitement and a nervous sensibility.

The personal was evident again in the first of the two Chopin pieces. Chocolate-smooth legato and beautiful phrasing drew out the emotional core of Nocturne in E Major, Op. 62, No. 2. In contrast the Scherzo in C-Sharp Minor, No. 3 was rapid and robust.

As moving and thought-provoking as the first half of this programme was, it was merely a warm-up for the second half, Schubert's Sonata in B-Flat Minor, D. 960. All Lortie's virtuoso skills and technical ability used in the first part, the finger strength and agility, the evenness of all notes regardless of fingering or speed, the facility in passing gestures from hand to hand, enormous power in combination with filigree delicacy, were put to full use, to divine and express Schubert's musical thought, never to show off.

Schubert played this Sonata for the first time in public to a group of friends only two months before he died. It has been described as expressing deep anguish, as music of sinister beauty and of sublimity of expression. It is infused with a contemplation of mysteries. The silence at the end of the tranquil theme which rises gently, hopefully for a few bars until stopped by a long low trill haunts the first movement. The second movement, Andante sostenuto, is hypnotically, painfully beautiful. The lively Scherzo “con delicatezza” and final Allegro may mark a return to strength, though constantly falling lines suggest that the greatest determination is required

Despite what must have been a strenuous evening, Lortie graced the audience with an encore (Schubertís Impromptu in A flat major, opus 90, no.4) played as passionately as the rest of the programme. This was an evening to remember.

© 2009 Elizabeth Paterson