Review: Golka plays Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt 

click to enlarge 2009 APA Fellow Adam Golka
  • 2009 APA Fellow Adam Golka

Every time he has appeared here, pianist Adam Golka has stunned his audience with exceptional playing, not the least of which demonstrating spot-on technique. Sunday afternoon, in the intimate Eidson Duckwall Recital Hall on the Butler University campus, Golka tackled a program which challenged even him -- in particular Beethoven's monumental "Hammerklavier" Sonata, No. 29 in B-flat, Op. 106. By far the longest (45 minutes), most ambitious opus of its kind written to that date (1818), it offers more technico-musical challenges than just about any solo work I can think of.

There appear to be two ways to play the grandiosely difficult opening movement: (1) as Beethoven intended with his own metronome marking, the Allegro movement charging like a lion after a wildebeest, the devil come what may - i.e. Artur Schnabel as recorded in the 1930s; and (2) "exploring" the movement more carefully, nuancing all the "special" moments - i.e. Mitsuko Uchida as recorded within the last two decades. Schnabel's version was riddled with mistakes; Uchida's was note perfect (or could have been even without modern-day editing corrections); Golka's was in between.

Our APA Fellow appeared to begin Op. 106 like the Beethoven master, Schnabel, but reverted to the Beethoven master, Uchida, making those stylistic transitions rough. His passage work was slightly overpedaled, also showing a tendency to bang his upper registers. Beethoven got the best of him herein, as he does with most who attempt Op. 106's opener. The rest of the sonata went better, especially the profoundly moving Adagio sostenuto, with its Chopinesque anticipations. Golka seemed to have a fair command of the thorny fugal movement that "never stops," yet ends the work.

The recital began with a much earlier, much simpler, more ingratiating throughout Beethoven sonata, his No. 6 in F, Op. 10 No. 2, with three short movements. Other than a bit of overpedaling, Golka took command of this delightful aperitif from start to finish.

The 24-year-old Houston native did his best work in three Brahms Intermezzos from his Op. 117 set--and with Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (the famous one). As shapely as he made the "curves" of these quite mature Brahms pieces, Golka pounced on those surfacy Liszt figurations with near faultless bravura playing over the piano's entire compass. Nonetheless, in leaving the concert I mused that the "Hammerklavier" claims yet another victim. April 15; Eidson Duckwall Recital Hall

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