Adam Neiman is one of those rare musicians who makes audible distant worlds otherwise unreachable. Friday night the prodigious pianist was not merely a tour guide, but a Sherpa, leading our caravan along the treacherous heights and challenging terrain of late-period solo piano works by Beethoven. And the vistas were magnificent, displayed in crisp detail and saturated hues. To be sure, the task was herculean, the stuff of only the most formidable pianists: 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120 comprised the first half; Piano Sonata No. 29 in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 made up the second half. Both are extended works, clocking in at just under an hour each, and are widely regarded as among the most challenging of the classical piano repertory. The Variations vie with The Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach in scope and magnitude, but Beethoven’s are exercises in “deconstruction,” according to Camerata Pacifica Director Adrian Spence, rather than filigree and extrapolation. “You’d be hard-pressed to find Diabelli’s theme,” said Spence in his concert introduction. Revolutionary and rebellious, Beethoven was pushing away the classical forms of Haydn and Mozart and venturing into unknown seas, marked by dramatic contrasts and sudden shifts in affect. No sooner does he give you a mooring, than he cuts you loose again to struggle for harmonic bearings. Feverish gyrations gain momentum, and then are flung off the keyboard in an instant as if tossed from a height.
But none of this means anything without an able translator, and Neiman, playing entirely from memory, proved himself an inspired and worthy mouthpiece. It is not only his immaculate technique — the crisp unity of his chords, the snappy vitality of his trills — but his commitment to this literature, and the depth of his introspection that shine through.