Daniel Barenboim’s Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle at the Royal Festival Hall is currently the talk of the musical world, and certainly the hot ticket of the season. So when I found a single seat still available in the back row, on 6 February, I thanked my stars and grabbed it.

Sonata no. 5 in  C minor, op. 10 No. 1

Sonata no. 11 in B flat, op. 22


Sonata no. 19 in G minor, Op. 49 No. 1

Sonata no. 20  in G, Op. 49 No. 2

Sonata no. 23 in F minor Op. 57 (Appassionata)

Barenboim strode across the stage, took his bow all across the audience, set his kerchief aside, and began without any further ado.

Barenboim has elaborated at length in interviews and in his book  about the need for a pianist to look for orchestral colours in the piano score, and never to think in terms of “left hand, right hand” but rather the ten fingers either as ten separate units, or as one. He possesses this ability in spades, which is why he commands as much respect as an orchestral conductor, as he does as a concert pianist.

Not being a pianist myself, I cannot claim to know the repertoire sufficiently to comment upon it, but I do know the Appassionata. In fact, I had just watched him give a masterclass (DVD) to Lang Lang, where this very sonata was the focus of study. It helped that the person in front of me had the score open, so it was heartening to note the attention to every little sforzando or subito piano that Beethoven threw into the score. 

There is an air of authority and effortless self-assuredness that Mr B tends to exude, which comes across in his playing.

Barenboim played the entire programme from memory which to me seemed quite a feat, although it does bring to mind Furtwangler’s caustic retort when Karajan’s conducting from memory was pointed out by a critic 🙂   

The wife (henceforth known as Ms R, for Ms Right) and I also went to the last concert of the series on Sunday 17 February.

This time we got to the RFH early, and were able to watch a highly illuminating video interview with the maestro in the lobby. In it he discusses his childhood, formative years, and the importance of leaving a legacy without forcing it out of oneself. I would have loved to attend the talks that were part of the cycle as well.

The programme:

Sonata no.9 in E, Op.14 no. 1

Sonata no. 4 in E flat, Op.7

Sonata no. 22 in F, Op. 54

Sonata no. 32 in C minor, Op. 111