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Venerable Pianist in Muffled Setting


“Three Festival favorites — Beethoven, Liszt, and Anievas” (to quote the program description), the afternoon concert of the Newport Festival In the CrossPoint Church in Newport on  July 26, consisted of Augustin Anievas playing the Beethoven op. 13 and op. 111 sonatas and Liszt’s Grandes Ètudes de Paganini; Chopin’s D-flat Major Nocturne was the encore. As he seated himself at the piano, Agustin Anievas, the venerable pianist, addressed the audience briefly, suggesting that we imagine the pictures and experiences that the composer tried to express and to think of experiences in our own lives that the music might evoke. The sentiment smacked unpleasantly of a condescending music appreciation class for 10-year-olds — surely it is preferable to listen to the music rather than daydream egocentrically — but the sincerity of Anievas’s manner leads me to suspect that he meant it merely as a kindly way of setting the audience at ease before launching into the Pathétique sonata.

C minor has long been considered the most characteristically Beethovinian of keys; even Chopin acknowledged this by lifting the end of the first movement of opus 111 for the end of his Revolutionary Etude. The classic pairing of Beethoven’s most famous solo piano works in C minor, therefore, neatly displays the development of his ideas between his early and late periods. The passionate emotions and the dotted rhythms are present in both (although the dotted rhythms of the opening of op. 13 become double-dotted in op. 111 – a detail that most pianists, including Anievas, tend to obscure by sharpening the dots in the former). The opening movement in sonata form likewise remained. The exquisite Adagio cantabile and Rondeau of the traditionally structured op. 13, however, gave way to his late experiments with the dualistic pairing of a grim C-minor opening movement and a transcendent C-Major closing movement.

Throughout the program, Anievas’s slow movements were lovely, with a great deal of gentle silvery coloring and sweetly sung melodies. The Adagio cantabile of the Pathétique and the Nocturne were particularly attractive, although he had to fight against the dead acoustics of the room and the very noisy air conditioning in order to produce sustained lines. I wish I could have heard Anievas in his prime; the precise detail and virtuosic flair of his 1969 recording (under Moshe Atzmon) of the Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2, for example, must have been a joy to hear live.

I must protest over the use of the Cross Point sanctuary as a venue for musical performances. The soft-cushioned chairs are comfortable (I daresay the congregation enjoys them), but when combined with acoustical panels on the walls and the soft cushiony carpeting that covered both the sanctuary and the altar dais where the piano stood, the result is room with no resonance whatsoever. The new Bösendorfer Model 285, transported over from the Newport Art Museum on a humid afternoon, to its tuning’s and to the technician’s distress — might just as well have been bundled up in fluffy quilts. The deadness of the room could hardly have placed Anievas or the instrument (apparently smooth and neutral-sounding — whether it would display more color and character in better acoustics is hard to guess) at a greater disadvantage. There are very few halls that can be said to have ideal acoustics, but it is cruel to place a fine concert grand in a room that sucks away every scrap of resonance. Under such circumstances no majesty of sound is possible and everything is robbed of its bloom.

The only benefit to the total lack of resonance was that the extraordinary number of coughs, snores, crinkling candy wrappers, and astonishingly audible gum-chewing were at an equal disadvantage. The enthusiastic applause (down to a full standing ovation) between pieces did little to counterbalance the audience’s general level of vague and noisy inattention during them.

Tamar Hestrin Grader, a harpsichordist, received her A.B. in Music from Harvard.

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