I thought yesterday's piano and violin recital at Kammersusikaal was amazing and nothing could beat that experience. That was until Lionel and I went to Piano Salon Christophori in the Wedding district of Berlin - what we saw and experienced this evening was unbelievable.
Lionel had searched for concerts and performances in Berlin for our visit. He found this 'piano restoration factory' which hosts about two concerts per week and that there was a piano recital during the time of our visit, so, with the aid of Google Translate, he booked seats. The pianist for this evening was Li-Chun Su, from Taiwan but living, working and teaching in Berlin. We had no knowledge about the place or the soloist. I was very excited but had no idea what to expect. A longish taxi ride to the venue was comfortable enough, but it seemed the area was a bit dodgy when we arrived. There was a huge, spooky, ghost-house-like mansion next door and the venue itself was in an area of nearly derelict factories and warehouses. We hoped we"d arrived at the right place!
But once we stepped in '“ it was out of this world. The entrance was rather shabby, just like a warehouse in an industrial area. As we passed through the corridor towards the "recital room", there were several black and white photos of the artists who had performed at this venue. And that included Alexandra Soumm, a wonderful Russian violinist who I just heard at Wigmore Hall late last year, and Sayaka Shoji, another wonderful violinist who was the winner of Paganini Competition in 1999! I couldn"t believe my eyes; this place surely attracts high quality performers! The "recital room" itself is the workshop of the restoration business with piano parts piled in all corners alongside the dissected remains of beautiful grand pianos. An audience member told us that people come from across Germany to source parts and to have their historical instruments repaired.
What was amazing though is that they did not charge us to be there; there was only retiring collection after the concert, and it was completely up to us how much to contribute. And there was a self-service bar with plenty of bottles of wine and a huge fridge full of beers! What kind of place was this??
What was even more amazing was the concert itself. The pianist Li-Chun was a real talent. She had astonishing skills and a sharp artistic sense. She performed Bach-Busoni"sChaconne, Beethoven"s final Sonata No. 32, and Liszt Sonata in B minor. What a masculine programme by a petite lady, but she was in total control and her performance so convincing.
I am very fond of Chaconne. She played it with such determination in an uncompromising manner, as if nothing would deter her interpretation. The way she used exaggerated pauses to change the mood (from being firm to soft, and vice versa) was clever. It was powerful but also very articulate.
Though consisting of only two movements, Beethoven"s final Sonata No. 32 is quite long and mentally quite heavy. This did not intimidate Li-Chun at all though. She was again composed and confident, playing it through as if it was no big deal. Her playing had all elements; dynamics, details, lightness and playfulness (it has some jazzy phrases).
By the way this Sonata was performed twice at Breinton. Once by Tom Poster in April 2009 and on a second occasion by Emmanuel Despax in January 2011 Tom said that this particular Beethoven piece needed to be the last one in his programme; otherwise it would be an insult to Beethoven. Emmanuel said performing this sonata was soul draining, it was impossible to play further pieces. Everyone"s view is certainly different '“ but this lady Li-Chun didn"t stop with the Beethoven. She went on to play the massive Liszt Sonata in B minor after the interval, which was again triumphant. The sonata"s theme transformed in various forms, from menace and evil sounds to a heavenly melody; Li-Chun expressed immense contrasts that suited the music context of the moment. She then moved on to her encore, which was Paganini"s La Campanella. She was tireless! It seemed an overwhelming programme to anyone, but it actually wasn"t. Simply, it was a fabulous concert by a fabulous pianist.
After some conversations with the host and some of the audience, we learned that the owner, Christoph Schreiber, is a physician by day, and that piano restoration was his hobby. Twice a week he escapes into his piano world to appreciate music being performed there. I will be forever grateful to Lionel for taking me to Piano Salon Christophori.