Rising star, Nicholas Kennedy, on Beethoven…
“When I was asked to write this piece, I must admit that I initially felt rather nervous. Picking one “best” or “favourite” in any art is always a tough gig, not least because the decider’s choice will inevitably conflict with someone else’s. It’s even more difficult in the case of something like preferred recordings of Beethoven’s piano works, because the oeuvre itself is so toweringly great and because so many artists have brought such convincing and varied interpretations to the table. And, as ever, everyone has their own unique preferences.
My other quandary was entirely personal. You see, my tastes in music (as well as food, fashion, technology…) are forever subtly changing. Many musical types I know have confessed that they’re the same. At any rate, the one Beethoven recording which is affecting me most deeply at a given time is seldom the same twice.
Even so, a verdict had to be reached. The only strategy I could come up with was to make my decision entirely and avowedly particular to my feelings today. So, a disclaimer: what you’re about to read, dear reader, was true to the best of the author’s knowledge at the time of writing, but may have no bearing on his views tomorrow.
Then, with no further ado, I hereby announce my “today’s favourite” recording of a Beethoven work featuring the piano: Sviatoslav Richter’s 1975 recording of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 for Deutsche Grammophon, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kurt Sanderling.
The next hurdle is explaining my choice. In this case, it’s simple: I really like it. But what exactly makes me – or any listener – like a recording?
It’s all to do with musical priorities. For me, the single most important goal of any performance is to capture the essence of what the composer was endeavouring to convey. And this, in my opinion, is what Richter does so superbly on this recording. The heroism of the first movement is perfectly projected in Richter’s rich, resonant tone and legendary rhythmic control. In the second movement, Richter’s daringly slow tempo is only fitting for the otherworldly sonorities of the opening solo, and he brings a rare tenderness and spirituality to the heavenly E major melody. Richter’s pauses in this movement are truly “pregnant,” breathtaking in their meaningful silence (yes, that does exist), and the seemingly boundless warmth of Beethoven’s writing finds its perfect vehicle in his gorgeous cantabile. Finally the Rondo receives a reading of razor-sharp articulation and infectious energy; the coda is irresistible in its exuberant athleticism.
On a purely instrumental level, throughout, Richter’s pianistic technique seems to define “all-powerful,” with astonishing evenness and clarity in the passages. This bear of a man could capture every shade of colour and texture imaginable – and then some. And even though this is a column in a piano newsletter, I must also mention that the sound quality on the recording is prime, and the work from Sanderling and the orchestra is first-rate.
Yes, there are moments where another take wouldn’t have gone astray. Yes, there are other renditions of the same work which rival this one. And yes, on another day, I might have chosen to write about another recording, perhaps of a different work: Emil Gilels’ profound A flat major Sonata, Op. 110; Grigory Sokolov’s crystal-clear C major Concerto, Claudio Arrau’s noble “Emperor,” Paul Lewis’ thought-provoking “Waldstein”…
Needless to say, it’s all subjective. But at least give Richter’s “Third” a try. And please don’t complain if you hate it. You’ve been warned.”
Nicholas Kennedy, Pianist
Born in Sydney in 1996, Nicholas Kennedy gave his first paid public performance at the age of seven, and as he says, has “had the music bug ever since.” He has studied piano with Clemens Leske, Gerard Willems and Daniel de Borah; cello with Julian Smiles and Susan Blake and chamber music with John Harding. A seasoned performer on both his instruments and inaugural member of the Sydney Conservatorium’s Rising Stars program, Nicholas holds top AMEB diplomas and numerous competition prizes in solo and chamber music capacities. In 2014, he was selected as one of five senior finalists in the NSW Secondary Schools’ Concerto Competition, performing the first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Kuring-Gai Philharmonic Orchestra. Nicholas also has a keen interest in musicology and composition, with a sizeable body of stand-alone works and cadenzas to his name. A graduate of Sydney Grammar School, Nicholas was awarded the prestigious James Richard Edward Chappl Scholarship for tertiary study at the Sydney Conservatorium beginning in 2015.