The three descending notes at the outset of Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude normally announce the approach which the the artist will take. Hesitant, quiet, or confidently and warmly ushered in, we can sense how this beautiful melody and its varying accompanying figures will be released and integrated with the other contrasting themes and sections.
M. Guy is a mature artist and from the outset it was clear that this was to be a poetic and thoughtful account, relishing second subject territory and eschewing clangorous and misconceived bravura. Gallic, rather than Italianate, warmth was released: M. Guy has a crystalline sound world, as befits a French artist: think Pleyel, not Steinway. It was a lovely performance, leading us to hope for more Liszt from this source.
M. Guy has acquired, rightly or wrongly, a reputation in France as a Beethoven specialist. This evening, we were treated to the Appassionata. I heard this last year and enjoyed, but then heard Abduraimov play the same piece with terrifying and titanic abandon, confirming that, shall we say, M. Guy is sometimes a little too polite in middle period Beethoven. Taken on its own terms, as last year it was excellent, without a smudge or a hint of mistiming. It just lacked, to these ears, the last ounce of abandon, Beethoven’s unbuttonedness, arguably the wildness that Beethoven’s music, above all, requires to release its true greatness.
Unlike last year, the auditorium was half-full, perhaps as a result of the programme. In the second half of the programme, we were treated to Brahms Third Sonata Op. 5. Beautiful pianism, chords softly weighted and properly sonorous when required, exquisite finger work, great choices of tempi: M. Guy was on top form. But somehow this work failed, for this listener, to come alive. I can’t imagine more persuasive advocacy: maybe it’s just the piece, or my response to it.
Two encores, beautifully played, relished, left the audience satisfied.