Monday, December 14, 2009

Formenti Plays Lang & Haydn

Looking at the scoreMarino Formenti, Piano
Aspects of the Divine
Friday, December 11, 8pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

Seven Last Words:
Bernhard Lang: Monadologie V - 7 Last Words of Hasan (US Premiere)
Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross

When I entered the church venue for Marino Formenti's unusual program of Lang & Haydn, I became aware of an ambient electronic drone. Every few minutes the sound changed. By the time the program was about to start, it sounded like the hum of a UFO about to land nearby. After the lights dimmed, the hum began to fade. After a few moments of silence, Mr. Formenti & his poker-faced page turner walked to the piano. Ignoring our applause, Mr. Formenti immediately sat down & started pounding out tone clusters. These were followed by rapid runs & more fierce hammering. This introductory movement of the Lang ended with a clear, isolated statement of a theme from the Haydn to come.

The Lang appeared inhumanly difficult to play, but Mr. Formenti attacked each movement fearlessly, often snorting & grunting. I liked the way he made the low chords in Sonata 2 sound like breathing. I let out a little laugh at the way he spit out the left hand notes in Sonata 3 as if he were having trouble lighting a match. At the close, his hands jumped away from the piano as if the keyboard were suddenly too hot to touch. Afterward, I walked up to the piano, trying to peer at the music. Others were just as curious & even bolder, & soon the piano was surrounded by curious audience members leafing through the score. They had to be chased away by the management.

The electronic drone resumed at the intermission, so when the lights dimmed & the sound again faded, we knew not to clap & allowed Mr. Formenti to sit at the piano in silence. Instead of being classical, balanced & even, his interpretation was introspective, inward & meditative. His rhythm could be a bit halting, & he often sounded like he was pushing through molasses. He allowed notes to blur, & he winced when playing soft passages. A few of the more intense moments recalled the Lang piece. The last, thundering earthquake movement linked the end of the recital directly to its abrupt start. There was a long pause before the audience felt it was safe to applaud.


Stephen Smoliar said...

I have to confess that writing about this event was one of the hardest tasks I have faced in some time! When I finished I felt I could look on the
with genuine satisfaction, and I hope that others will also see some benefit in that text. At the very least I hope I was able to provide more explanatory material than could be found in the program book!

For now, however, I wish to emphasize two points that reflect on your own impressions. Most important is that the experience of listening to Lang had a significant impact on how we listened to Haydn's, and I suspect that both Lang and Formenti wanted that impact to register. The other concerns the conclusion of the Haydn. When I was growing up, I remember a "social code" that one did not applaud Messiah when it was performed in a church. This was a corollary of the general rule that one did not applaud any form of religious rite. Haydn's music was intended to be part of a Good Friday service, the most introspective (and least "celebratory") day of the Christian calendar. I could easily have left the church without feeling a need to applaud. I suspect that Formenti knew that this would not be the case; but his own "frozen state" may have at least sustained the meditative atmosphere of the music a bit longer than would otherwise have been the case.

Axel Feldheim said...

It was negligent of the program annotater not to tell us the story of Hasan's 7 last words, so it is good of you to rectify that.

One gets the feeling that Mr. Formenti would gladly forgo all that clapping nonsense at all of his appearances. I agree that he did a masterly job of sustaining a meditative atmosphere for the entire recital. He enhanced the effect by playing that hour-long Hadyn from memory. I felt I was witnessing something very personal.

Stephen Smoliar said...

I feel it is necessary to give credit where credit is due. You probably noticed that the program notes did not even say who Hasan was! I have Janos Gereben to thank for resolving this matter in the
preview piece
he wrote for San Francisco Classical Voice. The rest of the "background research" (including fact-checking Janos) was my own!

Also, thank you for mentioning that Formenti played the Haydn from memory. I agree entirely that this decision contributed to the overall mood of the performance. I was so wrapped up in trying to tease out the Lang-Haydn connection that I let this observation slip in my own