First published in The Herald on 19 August, 2015
If there were doubts about the Playfair Library being the right venue for Rudolf Buchbinder’s Beethoven cycle — would fine details carry in such a high and narrow space? Would the sirens hurtling up and down Nicolson Street shatter the peace? — they should have been assuaged by now. From the various places I’ve sat during these concerts the sound has been loud and clear. The ornate vaulted ceiling lends a majesty to proceedings, and anyway: Buchbinder’s sturdy attack can cope with the sirens.
This seventh instalment culminated with the Waldstein Sonata, Opus 53, the apex of Beethoven’s mid-period pianism and among the noblest and most uplifting music he ever wrote. The composer was going increasingly deaf while working on the score, yet from the deep, exhilarating tremors of the opening to the soaring, resilient theme of the finale there is a profound determination to “seize Fate by the throat”, as he wrote to a friend.
Buchbinder’s Waldstein — as so much of this cycle — didn’t stop to marvel at such highs and lows. His tempo was fearless in the first movement, a bright blaze of notes. There was some arresting stillness in the Adagio but the Rondo, which should transcend out of simmering tension, never gained its glowing optimism.
The early Sonata in A Opus 2 No 2 was the most sensitive and dynamically varied I’ve heard yet from Buchbinder in this cycle, especially the first movement. The Largo had simple nobility and the Scherzo some real delicacy. The Sonata in G, Opus 31 No 1 is full of graceful wit; Buchbinder made the most of it in the charming Adagio.