The latest concert from the Park Lane Group Young Artists series at the Wigmore Hall last night, featuring Alissa Firsova and the Cavaleri String Quartet, was of an exceptional standard. Opening with Beethoven’s Serioso string quartet and his last piano sonata, the first half of the concert was of an intensity that made the Rachmaninov Corelli Variations and Brahms String Quartet in A minor of the second half appear comparatively ‘light’ (a word I tend not usually to associate with either of these composers).
Alissa Firsova’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor was formidably strong. Capturing each contrast, she subtly yet perfectly combined a singing lyricism and lightness of touch with a powerful sound and impressively prolonged rising tension; a crucial formulae for this daunting work.
Throughout his sonatas, Beethoven employed as much of the keyboard as was physically possible, allowing us to trace the development of the instrument through his works. At this late stage of his life, he also had a certain obsession with the contrast between low trills and rumbles on the one hand, and high, celestial sounds on the other. This juxtaposition in range and timbre is particularly notable in his last piano sonata, and Firsova elegantly dramatised these contrasts, bringing them to life with a studied vibrancy. These extremes in range of high and low have often been interpreted as metaphors for heaven and hell, a point focused upon by Andras Schiff in his lectures on the Beethoven sonatas. Indeed, in her programme notes, Firsova compares the narrative of the sonata to Dante’s Divine Comedy, encompassing as it does the spectrum between earth, heaven and hell.
Masterful contrasts were also a theme in Firsova’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations, where she again created a powerful, deep Russian sound – recalling her roots – juxtaposed by the simplicity of Corelli’s theme. The Cavaleri’s performance of the Brahms captured an impressive intensity and agitation, though this drama perhaps overshadowed the more lyrical parts of this work which are particularly Schubertian. Overall, this was an excellent concert, very well received by the knowledgeable Wigmore Hall audience, with cheers after each finale.