The last Tchaikovsky Competition winner I remember in Amarillo was a night in January, 1966, in the full blow of a Panhandle blizzard, to hear a Texan named Van Cliburn.
Fast forward to December 3, when a lucky few heard a transplanted Texan, Andrey Ponochevny, bronze medal winner of the 2002 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, give a mesmerizing performance of Beethoven’s last three sonatas.
This program was arranged by Dr. Diego Caetano, Amarillo College Professor of Piano, and sponsored by Art Force. In his brief pre-concert remarks Diego remarked that securing Andrey’s commitment to play these three sonatas was the inspiration to devote this year’s series to performing all thirty-two.
And, in case readers missed an earlier brag, Amarillo College is the only place in Texas where one can hear every sonata!
The audience realized, after Maestro Ponochevny’s first phrases, why he is a Tchaikovsky medalist. Every note and nuance of Beethoven’s compositions sang with vibrant clarity , and for an hour Amarillo College was the center of the Beethoven piano universe.
LVB composed No. 30 in 1820 and dedicated the piece to the daughter of a friend. He allegedly took time from the Missa Solemnis to work on another manuscript, when his secretary suggested that a sketch from this new work might satisfy a sonata requested by his publisher. So, he killed two birds, as it were.
Half of this sonata involves the third movement, in which Beethoven appropriates considerable liberties with the traditional form. Which means, among other things, that Beethoven doesn’t allow comfort to burden the listener, having no problem going, in only one note, from peaceable kingdom to charge!
If such dynamics and mood shifts posed a challenge, Maestro Ponochevny seemed to embrace and relish them. This movement, by turns, is lyrical, then bouncy, then manic with arpeggiation, then menacing, with the left growling in the bass cleft, then concluding with the deliberate keyboarding of the beginning.
Sonata no. 31 was composed in 1821, with final delivery complicated by bouts with jaundice and rheumatism. Apparently Ludwig had more to deal with than deafness.
The third movement has doubles of “Langsam” and “Fuguish,” which often results in this section’s declaration as two separate. It becomes quite involved , terminating with strong chords and melodic runs. As always, Beethoven taunts the complacent.
Sonata no. 32, bridging 1821 – 22, was dedicated to the composer’s friend and patron, the Archduke Rudolf.
Unusually, this piece has only two movements, but they pack a punch. The Maestoso has a bipolar opening, alternating twixt anger and playfulness, connected by intense runs.
This playful quality, in the Arietta, exudes an almost jazzy vibe, anticipating the new American sound by nearly a century. But, this harbinger is sandwiched by sections that possess hymnal, ethereal and mystical qualities.
Perhaps the composer, after the chaos of the Napoleonic era, is calling for order in the world. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s still messing with our minds.
The audience enjoyed the rare privileges of hearing a truly world-class artist playing some of Beethoven’s most demanding sonatas, and all from the head and the heart. No scores, and this made the Concert Hall Theatre truly a musical paradise.
As the only Texans to have this opportunity, we exult in the addage, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!”