Nowhere is the romantic revolution more audible than in Beethoven's piano sonatas. There one finds that master's most personal work, his elegant reserve in classical forms and the shattering of these forms by his boundless genius. The chance to traverse all of this vast musical landscape has been the Kennedy Center's gift to music lovers this season. And as the Beethoven Piano Sonata Series nears its end, surely Ruth Laredo's concert at the Terrace Theater last night will be remembered as its most powerful highlight.
She played Beethoven's Sonatas Nos. 7, 3, 20 and 26. If some of the playing lacked the formal grace from which some of this music arises, the phrasing was governed by passion and titanic strength. Laredo displayed brilliant technique, but she never let it sparkle into emptiness. This was great Beethoven playing, and the impact was staggering.
The Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3, was the most striking. In its violent opening and structural abandon, it is a work that already bears the unmistakable mark of the later Beethoven. Laredo was very loud, as she would be throughout the evening. Her strength seemed superhuman. The opening presto was very rushed, yet all the notes were there and the incredible speed made sense. Her virtuosity was tempered, as it would be throughout the evening, by original and fortuitous choices on silence and on the bending of phrases. The slow movements were extended not through expansive pianism but through long, tense rests.
There was playfulness in the Sonata No. 20 in G Major, Op. 49, No. 2, but hidden sorrow seemed not far behind. "Les Adieux," the Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a, was a solemn and beautiful thing. Its depths were not disturbed by Laredo's dazzling speed. And if she seemed not to follow any of the indications to play soft, she surprised us in summoning up the necessary contrasts by playing louder and grander still.