Review: Piano concertos end special series featuring Beethoven’s work

The Summer Music 2017 weeks continued to reach toward a close with part two, the windup, of that significant cycle of programs containing all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos, presented courtesy of the Edward Auer Summer Piano Workshop.

Sunday afternoon brought a most enthusiastic audience to Auer Hall to hear the remarkable mid-octogenarian Jerome Lowenthal perform the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major and the distinguished Indiana University Jacobs School of Music piano faculty member Edward Auer, the workshop’s founder and director, finish the cycle with the Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, usually referred to as the “Emperor.” The set made for a terrific Sunday afternoon.

I first came across Lowenthal way back in the LP era at a record shop in Chicago where one could sit for hours in a booth to listen to what was on the laden shelves. It was a recording of piano transcriptions by Franz Liszt of music from various operas. Prominent was “Reminiscences de Norma, transcription for piano (after Bellini),” performed by one Jerome Lowenthal. It was a delight. I purchased it and then continued to purchase his recordings. He’s never disappointed me.

And he’s not done so when visiting here.

This time he happens to have performed my favorite of the Beethoven five, No. 4, which, according to the program notes, he’s just recently recorded with cadenzas by 11 other composers, something I look forward to hearing. The first three concertos, which we heard on the previous program, show the influence of Beethoven’s teacher Haydn. The fourth throbs with expressiveness and fully favors the artistic conscience of Beethoven himself. Its technical requirements are treacherous, not because of any bombast or flamboyance. Quite the opposite. This music is emotionally quiet, radiant, poetic, glowing. And a must for those who play it is absolute finger and pedal control to build an aural dreamscape. That’s what Lowenthal does about as well as anyone around. He’s a master at the dreamy. One word best describes his Sunday performance: exquisite.

The most popular of the concertos is the “Emperor,” a work that draws unto itself every pianist who yearns to exhibit his or her technique. So it tends to become quite noisy in performance, majestically orchestrated as it was for its time and more often than not performed today. However, there can be little doubt that Beethoven didn’t think about chamber-sized performances, pairing the keyboard instruments of his day with an orchestral ensemble in balance with the soloist’s piano of pre-Steinway times.

Well, Edward Auer decided, for his workshop, to use a smaller-sized orchestra, a very good chamber ensemble, one that guest conductor Eugene Albulescu had trained extremely well. As for soloist Auer, we know him as one of our local keyboard heroes, as an important professor in the Jacobs School’s piano department and as a musician of international stature with special affinity for the music of Chopin. But his repertoire is wider and very strong in music of the entire Romantic Age, from Beethoven forward.

The “Emperor,” at its center, features a radiant Adagio of great and quiet beauty, which he played gorgeously, but surrounding that movement is music of greater abandon and excitement and pomp, less like the music Beethoven placed into the other concertos. One can understand its popularity among both performers and listeners. The masterful Auer handled all of the score with nobility and eloquence and befitting force, when called for. The high quality of his playing was what one expects from virtuoso Auer and made for a lovely way to end the cycle series.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017 | pjacobi@heraldt.com

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