The London Symphony Orchestra has innovatively combined with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to present all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas as free pre-concert entertainments before Haitink’s performances of the symphonies.
This gives some of their more advanced students the rare opportunity to present a solo recital on the Barbican’s large and prestigious stage, and gives us two concerts for the price of one!
The last concert in the Guildhall’s series included the Sonata No. 30 in E major, Op. 109, and the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. The concert was performed by Tom Poster, who has an impressive portfolio and currently holds a Postgraduate Fellowship at the Guildhall, where he studies with Joan Havill.
The Barbican is a beautiful venue for chamber music. However, due to its size it requires a large personality to communicate with the audience. Although Poster attempted to achieve this, he obviously felt daunted and tried to overcompensate. Instead of allowing his emotion to show freely and genuinely, he affected facial expressions which were sometimes off-putting. He did relax though, and there were some moments when he seemed to invite the audience into his complex sound world.
The Adagio from Sonata No. 30 and the Allegro from Sonata no. 32 are two very different examples that showed his versatility, a key factor in successfully performing Beethoven. Poster skilfully changed the styles of his playing as demanded by the composer, creating arresting forward motion in the polyphonic sections and then sudden radiant stillness through the chordal accompaniment of the beautiful Adagio melodies. The endings of both the sonatas were also moments of poise and serenity.
Yet there were some technical problems. The dynamic range was good, but contrasts were sometimes more sudden than they needed to be and there were some clumsy moments, specifically near the beginning of the Sonata No. 30. Sonata No. 32 included complex textures which required greater clarity to avoid destroying the musical line. This later sonata seemed to lose intensity and therefore its power to captivate towards the end, especially in the pianissimo section, although Poster redeemed himself by following this with two beautifully sustained and evenly trilled passages.
In all, a mixed performance, but it was a welcome opportunity to hear Beethoven’s chamber music juxtaposed with his symphonic works: a typically novel venture from the LSO.