Peter Quantrill visits London’s Milton Court Concert Hall on 17 February 2023 for a performance of Schoenberg, Webern and Beethoven

Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Joonas Ahonen on electrifying form

Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin) Joonas Ahonen (piano)

Milton Court Concert Hall 17 February 2023 

The perpetually challenging nature of Schoenberg’s Phantasy looks after itself. Recognising this, Patricia Kopatchinskaja lavished on its yawning dissonances a lush, Brahmsian cantabile that the composer’s Viennese contemporaries would have admired. Fining down her tone to a confidential whisper, she breathed miracles of characterisation into Webern’s Four Pieces.

And yet – both surprisingly and predictably – the most modern-sounding composer on the programme turned out to be Beethoven. Kopatchinskaja’s reading of the C minor Sonata (no.7) stretched Classical grammar to its limits, firing off chords like gunshots and interrogating every phrase. It was radical stuff, but only insofar as a modern staging of Fidelio is radical. By her side, Ahonen’s piano sounded comparatively limited – through not through any lack of accomplishment on his part.

What makes Kopatchinskaja stand out from the crowd is not so much the bare feet, the cult following or the audience engagement that elicited an album leaf from the teenage Ligeti’s bottom drawer. It’s her almost unerring eye for the individual features of each piece she plays. The ‘Kreutzer’ after the interval took the Baroque severity of the introduction at face value, then tiptoed into the Presto with the bar-by-bar confidence of the Seventh Symphony at the same point. Her vibrato was much wider and warmer than for the C minor Sonata, recognising the proto-Romantic nature of this work. On another day, the stylistic patchwork of the Andante variations might seem mannered – clockwork doll one moment, rococo flirt the next – but at the time it made unforgettable, irresistible sense.


Photo: Mark Allan/Barbican