The Carmel Music Society presented pianist Hans Boepple in recital at All Saints’ Church last night, and it turned out to be an event that surpassed our expectations (which were already high to begin with). However, on this occasion he really hit one out of the ballpark. Did he impress us with his magnificent technique? Absolutely, but almost unintentionally, in a way that always served the music and never tried to impress us with ostentatious, empty virtuosity.
What was it that made this recital so special? In an age where we often hear exalted pianists of the highest reputation perform great works from the piano repertoire as vehicles to exploit and show off how fast and loud they can play, Boepple stands out as an uncompromising artist musician determined to penetrate to the essential core of each piece he performs and bring it to us in a way that the music speaks for itself and draws us intimately into the music making process.
Boepple presented an unusual and thoughtful program last night. The first half paired two sonatas (Mozart, K.330, and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor) that seemed to have little in common except that both were in three movements and approximately the same duration (about twenty minutes). Boepple presented the C Major Mozart Sonata in a manner far removed from the precious “Dresden Doll” style that was once in vogue a century ago. Boepple’s performance, full-blooded and virile, was closer to the style of Beethoven than to Mozart and Haydn, but in its pairing with Rachmaninoff demonstrated an affinity with the large gestures we so associate with the romantic and post romantic style. The strongest affinity between the two sonatas was apparent in their slow movements. The slow movement of the Mozart Sonata, sandwiched in between the predominantly mezzo-forte playing of the outer movements, emerged with a simple quiet beauty of mood, not unlike Rachmaninoff’s. Mozart’s astonishing venture briefly into the key of F minor was so lovingly played it became one of the high points of the evening.
Boepple’s performance of the Rachmaninoff Sonata was a revelation. This sonata has been played so often by aspiring virtuosos ever since Vladimir Horowitz rescued it from oblivion in 1965 that it is approaching overexposure today. Did Boepple find new aspects of this sonata to command our attention? Yes, he did. His lovely treatment of the first movement’s development section was so tender and inevitable that I felt as though I was hearing it for the first time. Similarly, the slow movement was tender and expressive beyond belief, and Boepple brought new meanings to the surface we didn’t know were there. The bold dramatic beauties and virtuosity he brought to the rest of the Sonata were powerful and totally absorbing. At its conclusion we heard bravos from the audience.
After intermission we had another pairing – the Bartók Suite, Op. 14, and Brahms Klavierstücke, Op. 119. The Bartók was so rhythmically and expressively satisfying that it seemed almost too brief. Each of the four sections seemed perfect in itself, while the most astonishing section was the slow and impressionistic final sostenuto. Boepple asked the audience to withhold applause at the end of the Bartók so that it could segue naturally and unobtrusively into the Brahms. It really worked, for the opening Intermezzo in B Minor melted our hearts and seemed so in sync with the final section of the Bartók. The beautiful Bartók and the beautiful heartfelt Brahms brought us to the conclusion of a noble concert, creating in the process a noble memory that will be stay with us for a long time. Boepple gave us one encore, an arrangement for solo piano of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise.
It is a pity the concert wasn’t recorded.