Nelson Goerner live at the Verbier Festival
Nelson Goerner plays Beethoven Piano Sonata No.26 in E flat major Op.81a Les Adieux, Chopin Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58, and Etudes Op.10 No.4 in C sharp major and Op.10 No.10 in A flat major
Nelson Goerner (piano)
rec. live, Verbier Festival, Switzerland, 19 July 2009
Picture NTSC/16:9; Sound PCM Stereo Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1; Region 0 (worldwide)
IDÉALE AUDIENCE DVD 3079188 [54:00]

Nelson Goerner was taped at the Verbier Festival, Switzerland, on 19 July 2009. His recital was presented in a rather stark way; he wore a black sweatshirt under his black jacket, and his somewhat elongated, bony, Holmesian visage appears almost too-brainy, given the stark juxtaposition of pale skin and unyielding black clothes. Add to this the rather phosphorescent, if limited, red and green Verbier lighting and you have a case of close textual analysis at work – a stripping away of inessentials, of fripperies, to the essential core of the music.

There are two main works, both sonatas. The first is Chopin’s B minor. Goerner, forty years of age at the time, plays with mature directness and intelligence. There are no idiosyncrasies, no peculiarities of accent or rhythm or chording or colour. The only exception is his, to me, annoying habit of taking his hands off the keyboard at the end of certain movements in a vigorous gesture, whilst keeping down the pedal. The result is unsympathetic, musically and visually, and smacks a little of gallery-pleasing. Musically things are fine, not least in the Scherzo and the somewhat understated but highly effective slow movement. The finale is powerful, cogent and finely judged. In terms of camera-work one should note that there are shots from an angle just under the keyboard so one can see the full extent of the arch of Goerner’s fingers – and his clear, no-nonsense technique. He plays two encores – a brilliantly executed C sharp minor Etude and the opus companion in A flat major.

The other sonata is Beethoven’s Les Adieux, which is perhaps rather more direct a reading than the Chopin but shares with it an unselfconscious directness that doesn’t spurn emotion but doesn’t indulge it either. Again, Goerner sits coolly and largely motionless. There are very few ‘heavenly’ gestures – something the clarinettist Richard Adeney in his outrageous autobiography detected in Myra Hess when he spied in one of her scores the self-instruction; ‘look straight up here, eyes shut’ – or words to that effect. No, Goerner is serious, sober and not given to excess.

The recital is thus short of ‘incident’, as such, but it’s not short of musical distinction.

Jonathan Woolf

Short of incident but not short of musical distinction.