Hélène Wickett’s Cabrillo concert, January 16, 2010:
At least three key forces came together on Saturday night, January 16, 2010 when Hélène Wickett gave a piano recital at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California:
1. The amazing musical and emotional content of Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas
2. The pianistic capability, style, and musicianship of Ms. Wickett
3. The new performance hall at Cabrillo College
Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas, and pianist giants such as Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, and Daniel Barenboim have travelled the globe, presenting them all in multiple evenings. These are masterpieces which show the musical development of Beethoven during his lifetime, 1770 to 1824. And the three final sonatas, Op. 109, 110, and 111 are the culmination of Beethoven’s composition career. These three sonatas contain a huge range of emotion, and frequent direction from the composer to the performer, asking him/her to play in a style that is “Gesangvoll mit innigster Empfindung” (in a singing manner, with deepest inner feeling).
Ms. Wickett demonstrated excellent technical capabilities and endurance for such difficult and demanding works. Her consistent musicality, rhythmic precision, and pianistic expertise were not impacted by the demands of speed or harmonic complexity. She also maintained an admirable level of accuracy in troublesome, very difficult passages. I particularly enjoyed the way she played the Fugues in these pieces.
I did find one aspect that was missing from Ms. Wickett’s playing: In several places I felt that the composer intended a more delicate pianistic touch. This was particularly evident in sections that called for a simple, singing style of playing. On the other hand, these sonatas require in many places the use of bold, loud outburst of sound, and here Ms. Wickett always came through with excellence.
Finally we have factor 3, from the above list: the new performance hall at Cabrillo College is beautiful and comfortable, particularly for chamber music or smaller ensembles. Still, the stage floor is made of oak. And the rear of the stage is lined with highly acoustic wood panels. It is possible that the physical structure of the performance venue may well have affected the artist’s ability to achieve truly delicate pianissimos that these Beethoven masterpieces require.
Ms. Wickett has performed all over the world, including at London’s Wigmore Hall. In 2008 she gave a recital at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie in New York City. Here’s the New Yok times review of that concert:
Next in Cabrillo College’s distinguished artist series is:
Pianist Di Wu
Date: Friday, Feb. 19th, 2010 at 8 PM
Place: Cabrillo college Music Recital Hall, VAPA 5001
Ms Wu will present compositions by Granados, Scoenberg, Prokofiev, and Debussy.
Here is an audio/video highlight of Ms Wu, as a contestant at the May, 2009 Van Cliburn competion, where she’s performing Robert Schumann: