Lars Vogt, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London / Janine Jansen Residency, Wigmore Hall, London (4/5, 5/5)


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It’s a welcome new trend that pianists should begin their recitals with a Haydn sonata. Still regarded in some quarters as the humble forerunner to Mozart, Haydn not only created the sonata form, but carried out experiments in it which still sound daring today.

The German pianist Lars Vogt chose Haydn’s final sonata, which has been aptly labelled his most Monty Pythonesque, thanks to its unpredictable flights of fancy. Vogt let the ideas in the first movement billow forth as in a summer wind; the benignly expansive Adagio seemed to drift through space, and the madness in the finale was given full rein; the touch throughout was light as a feather, while also possessing steely strength. 

What’s not in fashion, alas, is new music: permutations vary, but most recitals reshuffle the same old pack of cards. So it was a pleasure to get Thomas Larcher’s ‘12 poems’, this being a set of miniatures written for children to play, but full of the quirky originality which is this Tyrolean composer’s hallmark. With titles like ‘Frida falls asleep’ and ‘When I lost my funny green dog’, one might have expected echoes of Schumann’s ‘Kinderszenen’, but Larcher’s dozen are much closer to the pianistic games of Gyorgy Kurtag, and Vogt drew out their tongue-in-cheek charm. The rest of his recital was standard stuff, but mostly impressive. If the first two movements of Chopin’s second sonata were uneasy and slightly off-colour, its funeral march had unusual plangency thanks to some old-fashioned pianistic tricks, while the whirlwind finale was quieter and faster than I’ve heard it in years; Brahms’s Paganini Variations rang their majestic, star-spangled changes with velvet smoothness.

   Meanwhile there was not even standing room for the final concert of Janine Jansen’s Wigmore residency - and no wonder, when you saw her world-beating line-up. With fellow violinist Boris Brovtsyn, violists Amihai Grosz and Maxim Rysanov, and cellists Torleif Thedeen and Jens Peter Maintz, she led flawless performances of Schoenberg’s first chamber masterpiece, and Schubert’s last. Schoenberg’s ‘Verklarte Nacht’ became one single exquisitely-variegated train of thought; Schubert’s ‘String Quartet in C’ was mind-blowing, with a bated-breath Adagio, vertiginous cliff-falls in the Trio, and a glorious warmth of tone throughout. They should come back soon.