Brighton Year-Round 2020
Simon Watterton plays Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E flat Op 7, Schuman’s Arabesque in C Op 18, his Romance in F# minor Op 28/2, and two Beethoven shorts. The Bagatelle in a minor Für Elise WoO59 and the Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio in G major Op 129, otherwise entitled ‘Rage over a lost penny’.
Simon Watterton’s not a pianist we’ve had here at St Nicholas, but he’s a truly exciting one. A pianist who can engage his audience certainly, but also deeply knowing of repertoire, of other pianists, even the way particular pianos – he was eloquent about this French Elysian – allow some things and not others. And he has different registers for the same composer too.
Watterton plays works he states are usually not Beethoven staples. Of the 32 sonatas he reckons about six nicknamed ones are covered more than any. This one was originally called Grand Sonata on its appearance, because it was large scale and unlike the Op 2 and 10 sets either side of it had an opus number – 7 – all to itself. At around 28 minutes, it’s not as long as the giant Hammerklavier Op 106, but it’s one of the nearest: the early Hammerklavier then.
It’s a sort of wannabe-magisterial statement. And it is: hugely ambitious, purringly grand, eloquent of its own E flat arrival, the key of ceremonial wind instruments. It’s a superb work, wholly characteristic of Beethoven but also looking over its shoulder at the composer Beethoven was rivalling: Not so much Haydn, as Clementi.
Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in E flat Op 7 from November 1796 is a four-movement, statement-signalling blaze. The opening Allegro molto e con brio starts off with a rapidly-repeated bass left-hand ostinato over which the regal main theme is set off in the right. The movement goes all over the place though and I won’t cut through the thicket of quotes beyond the galumphing earthy 6/8 time which gives an idea of solidity. Watterton enjoys the legato singing of this and elsewhere, revelling in the unhurried majesty of it.
The next movement is though really unusual this early, Largo con gran espressione, a searching darkly bright-keyed C major that creates a nimbus of benediction. Watterton’s superb in this as he is in the following gentle movements. The scherzo-ish Allegro in E flat is more darkly playful, with echoes of minuet in its jokey scherzo texture, and particularly in the E flat minor trio section. The finale Rondo: Poco allegretto e grazioso is different again. It resolves much and doesn’t push to some grand pushy climax. Like other Beethoven rondo finales it gently concludes, as do the Schubert Sonatas taking their cue from Beethoven. So these works don’t get the acclaim of say Op 2/3 which enjoys a thunderous, clangour at its end. Watterton proves eh can paly Beethoven very differently. It’s more than refreshing.
He followed with a couple of slightly alter works from the late 1830s, Schuman’s Arabesque in C Op 18, dedicated to his beloved Clara Wieck whom he’d marry despite opposition. Again this singing gentle work spinning away from itself in a radiant C major is one of those works where the structure is luckily able to withstand this brief happy writing on white – the experience of C major generally – and come to a dancer’s rest
Schumann’s Romance in F# minor Op 28/2, is a superb dark-hued work from the underrated Op 28 set though this is the gem. It’s a dark hymn to glimpsed future happiness and powerfully shot with foreboding After Watterton’s treatment I felt I needed to get to know it again. The opus number’s misleading since it was written before the early ecstatically-married song cycles of 1840.
Wattterton concluded with two Beethoven shorts. The Bagatelle in A minor Für Elise WoO59 he rendered with a tender regard for the subtitle and a crisp sense of what a bagatelle can do when from Beethoven – who didn’t feel able to publish in any Bagatelle set, for it sees personal reasons. Watterton plays it with alert tenderness. He makes a very different sound for the Rondo alla ingharese quasi un capriccio in G major Op 129, otherwise mischievously entitled ‘Rage over a lost penny’. Published in 1826 it’s from much earlier. Watterton delights in the brisk attack and robust swing of the more pungent, assertive Beethoven we think we’re familiar with. The works’ bright edges glint in G major, there’s a swagger and muscularity that Watterton draws from the piano in a wholly different colour range.
Despite the limitations (trying to play very soft) – and occasional unique felicities – of the Elysian – Watterton conveyed an immensely song-like Beethoven with a different sonority for other repertoire. For the Schumann he also seems ideal, from within a spinning legato tone. Another pianist to welcome back before he gets snapped up, even in this climate. Superb.