23 November 2016

ANAM: Laurence Matheson and Beethoven’s 111

Laurence Matheson

Melbourne Recital Centre Salon

Thursday 17 November 2016

It’s been said that, at an international level, playing the right notes is a given. Laurence gave us all the right notes in Beethoven 111 but that was only the beginning.

It was the energy of his playing that set this recital apart from the merely excellent. At times it was as if he had been captured by the tension in the score so that his whole body, from his hands to his feet, exploded.

The F minor Fantaisie of Chopin is highly chromatic and often furious but in this performance every note was in its place and every phrase was defined crisply and cleanly. There is a beautiful figure in this piece that involves a succession of single notes building an harmonic structure of extraordinary delicacy and beauty. We heard this without affectation and without egocentricity. Its execution depended on Laurence’s trademark virtuosic pedalling that allowed one note to be fluidly succeeded by the next to construct the lyrical colour. Each note was defined but the pedal kept it alive to build on the next without muddying the note before.

The recital was essentially about three fantasies even if one, Beethoven’s Opus 111, is in sonata form. The wonderful characteristic of Opus 111 is that it’s very philosophical but in what respect, exactly? I had no help from the visuals: shiny black piano, black clothes head to toe, a complete absence of florid hand gestures unless that includes an occasional left-fist nose rub. The music was able to (was allowed to) to speak for itself.

Lawrence’s was a performance of intense emotions: rage? frustration? hope? resignation? packaged like a controlled coiled spring (again). His playing in this was as sharp as broken glass – harsh even – but still finding Beethoven’s underpinning lyricism. Laurence had listened to Beethoven say, ‘Don’t rush me. Take your time. Let me speak. My incredible mind is better than your incredible mind so don’t try to be clever. You’ll bugger my work.’

Between these two, programmed musicologically rather than sequentially, we heard As It Were by the Melbourne award winning academic and composer Elliott Gyger. This fantasy was built on ideas of Beethoven's Opus 26 and 110 sonatas. It’s a piece that I found difficult to comprehend at one hearing; I’d like to hear it again especially in the context of its inspiration. Clearly Laurence comprehended it; the composer seemed pleased with the performance.

It was his musical intelligence and his technical skills made this playing so exciting – and deserving of a much bigger audience than one hundred or so in the Salon (although it was wonderful to have a private recital).

Laurence won the ANAM Director’s prize for 2015 and is now an ANAM Fellow. This recital, curated by Marshal McGuire, was a wonderful celebration of that prestige.

It was the intersection of music, science and chess. Bloody brilliant!

 Laurence Matheson v Eric Neymanis 1-0

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