Jimin Oh-Havenith - Schubert | Liszt - Piano Sonatas - Audite 20043

Erik Langeveld, klassiek-centraal.be, 20.11.2019

Schubert and Liszt reborn

The Korean German pianist Jimin Oh-Havenith surprises us with a Schubert and Liszt CD. At first sight perhaps not an obvious combination. After all, Liszt declared Bach and Beethoven to be his greatest sources of inspiration, yet it is no secret that the two great masters of the 19th century keyboard had much more in common than just their first names.

This is evident from the fact that after Schubert’s untimely death in 1828, Liszt adapted and performed many of his compositions. Perhaps the most striking thing is that Liszt also arranged numerous songs for piano solo, including complete cycles such as Die Winterreise, Die Schöne Müllerin and Schwanengesang. Sometimes he went so far as to merge two songs into one new work.

But Schubert also exerted his influence on his younger colleague in terms of form and tonality. It was precisely in the area of sonata form that his urge to experiment often resulted in an ambiguity in form and tonality. In order to tell his increasingly fatalistic stories, it was necessary for him to free himself from the straitjacket of the sonata form. Schubert no longer wanted a happy ending in the tradition of Beethoven, in which the listener, dragged along by the fiercest emotions at the end of a work, is allowed to experience the consolation of a catharsis. Schubert was looking for the possibility of ending a work in the atmosphere of the work. This could be resignation, melancholy or, as in the work before us, an atmosphere of stress and agitation.

This led to a new musical principle in which the first movement of the sonata was, as it were, a model for the sonata as a whole. Schubert certainly made a revolutionary contribution here to the development of the sonata form. His innovations were later further developed by Schumann, Cesar Franck and Liszt.

Schubert’s idea of dragging the listener through a musical drama based on recurring themes, motifs and their elaboration is the hallmark of Liszt’s sonata in B minor.

The Sonata no 18 in G, Deutsch 894, presented here is another example of Schubert’s urge to experiment. Originally published under the title Fantasy, Andante, Menuetto and Allegro for Piano Solo, it turned out not to be a set of separate works, but a classical sonata, witness the form and coherence of the different keys.

Jimin Oh-Havenith (Seoul 1960) celebrated a prosperous career as a soloist after graduating in Frankfurt in the early 1980s. She also formed a piano duo with her teacher and later husband Raymund Havenith. After his untimely death in 1993, she withdrew from the stage and confined herself to her professorships in Mainz and Frankfurt. Fortunately, she decided to become active as a soloist again in 2013. In 2015 a CD of Chopin’s work was released, now she is once again delivering an impressive calling card.

The special thing about Oh-Havenith is that she is totally averse to any external appearance. She hung her ego on the coat rack before entering the studio. This is certainly a great merit in these times when vanities are often at the service of music. It’s all about the music and the music alone.

She is a born storyteller, who drags the listener into her story through her analytical way of playing The intelligibility of the message comes first.

As she knows how to strike Schubert’s emotional world, swaying between reflection, melancholy and anger, sometimes dancing, but always controlled and with a beautiful cantabile, here and there a cautious rubato reinforces is miraculous and touching.

Oh-Havenith presents all the themes, variations of motifs and repetitions so lyrically and musically that you can’t help but be fascinated by what she has to say.

It is as if Schubert himself enters your room to tell you the depressing story of his far too short life.

Her interpretation of Liszt’s sonata in B minor is, if possible, even more impressive. This work combines all the possibilities of the classical sonata, the fugue, the recitative and the cadenza with the impetuosity and madness of the romantic period in one grandiose movement.

Here her analytical, serving approach works even more convincingly, because this Mount Everest of piano literature often becomes an unintelligible mountain of notes through egotripping. Those who during the period of the romantic pianist (in the first half of the last century) did not manage to complete the piece under thirty minutes did not really count, according to history. Of course, this did not improve the intelligibility of the work. Alfred Cortot set a record of twenty-five minutes around 1925, but already missed it once. That did not bother him at all; Cortot was in a class of his own and got away with everything.

In 2019, Oh-Havenith will complete the course in a good half hour and can therefore certainly count itself among the top players in this field. But when it comes to interpretation, she stands at a lonely altitude and leaves many acclaimed keyboard lions far behind her. I have seldom heard such a clear, honest, musical and at times moving interpretation. This is beyond virtuosity.

This sonata generally goes on for long, complicated and incomprehensible to some, but Oh-Havenith reduces the work to a structured story built on a few recognisable themes without ignoring its lyrical richness. She tells it in one long breath. It can be as simple as that.

This is Liszt for dummies and advanced. If you don’t know this piece (yet) or if you don’t know it very well then after thirty-one minutes of attentive listening you can call yourself an insider in the matter. Anyone who has heard the piece a few times will recognise a reborn Liszt in this modern, dusty interpretation.

The German record label Audite is to be praised for the high artistic level of this extremely fascinating project in which the relationship between Schubert and Liszt is convincingly deepened.

A project that has been taken care of down to the smallest details. From the beautifully sounding Bösendorfer grand piano with its roaring bass strings to the enclosed highly informative booklet, everything is perfect.

But most of all, the Audite is to be praised for the courage to choose a relatively unknown, not so very youthful, but great pianist who, with her honest, innovative approach, presents a gripping Schubert and effortlessly puts down all the moods, bizarre ideas and sound effects of Liszt’s eternal pièce de résistance.

Costly! Many of her better-known colleagues could learn something from this! This CD is a broadening of everyone’s musical horizons! Brilliant, buy it!

Eric Langeveld, Klassiek Centraal, 20.11.2019