Valentina Lisitsa, May 2010.

(Photo by Michael von Aichberger.)

I began the Adagio Sostenuto from Beethoven's
Opus 106. I took the tempo as slow as I dared. The
movement, long as it is, had now to be stretched to
the limit. The sonority was wonderful, every note
rang out true and clear. The minutes passed and the
music flowed everlastingly on. It might be the god
himself who was opposing me, yet he should learn
something of the depths of human agony.

— Fred Hoyle, October the First is Too Late.

I've listened to quite a bit of pianist Valentina Lisitsa's performances
over the past year, both on her website and on youTube. With no CDs
currently in print, it seemed the only way to go. I have to admit that I
have mostly concentrated on the Romantic and Post-Romantic composers
she is mostly known for — Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev.
But I have also hit some of the Beethoven now and then: the breathless
"Appassionata," the stunning "Emperor," and the rather infamous but
wonderful student piece, "Fur Elise."

Doing a post on Broadwood pianos and Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata
recently sent me scampering back to youTube. There are two different
versions of Valentina playing the sonata there — a studio version and a
recital version. It gets rather confusing running between the two given
that each one is broken into parts. So to make things easier I have broken
down the recital version below, in proper sequence.

L. v. Beethoven, Piano Sonata in B-flat, Op. 106, "Hammerklavier"

Hammerklavier I. Part 1

Hammerklavier I. Part 2 / II.

Hammerklavier III. Part 1

Hammerklavier III. Part 2 / IV. Part 1

Hammerklavier IV. Part 2

I decided to go with the recital version — it was pretty much of a coin
flip. I think the studio version is the most recent of the two but that's
just a guess. I listened to the studio version once and the recital version
twice in making up my mind. And boy, it is hard to describe the "mind filling"
feeling of listening to that work three times in a row. Whoa!

Going in I had no doubt whatsoever that Valentina could handle the work
technically. In fact you might say that from the aspect of technique she
might be "overqualified for the job" in anything that she plays. But it
was Mvt. III that concerned me, the movement that is perhaps the greatest
expression of human grief ever put to music paper. And at only 37 years
old (probably younger when the video was made) I wondered whether she
would be able to handle it from an interpretive aspect.

As it turns out — she can.

The standard for me in the late Beethoven sonatas has always been the
set recorded by Charles Rosen. And so it is natural to compare. My view
is that on the technical side that Valentina has the slight edge, especially
in terms of speed and power. That in no way surprises me. From an inter-
pretive point of view I would say that both have their great moments. In
the end I would say that it is a tie between them.

But give her 10 more years — well — I wish that I could be here to hear
it. That I will leave for others. One thing I can say is that even if my
personal spiritual beliefs turn out to be totally wrong, even if I end up
as just a mass of chemicals thrown onto the ground, that I have in this
life been lucky to have heard some incredible music, performed by some
great performers.

Valentina Lisitsa is one of those performers. She is a gift to me in my last
days. And you know how it is sometimes — sometimes the best gift is pre-
sented last.