I ventured up to Villa Montalvo, a former estate back in the winding hills somewhere around here, for a concert. I hadn't been to Montalvo in decades, probably, and, as far as I can recall, never to its Carriage House Theatre, which was difficult to find until, wandering around the grounds in the deserted dark, I spotted a sign reading "Box Office". With lights on, and a few people around. The theatre is small, with the same stage layout as Oshman - a deeply inset proscenium - but whatever Oshman's acoustical problems, this one has solved them, to the extent of falling into the other error of being too vivid and close. The audience shouldn't be able to hear the pianist breathe.
I felt like something of a chump reviewing this program, because a little Googling on the obscurer items had confirmed that this performer takes this exact same program, preliminary remarks and all, around and plays it everywhere. His patter, like his piano playing, is probably entirely memorized. I did not, however, read any of the reviews of the same event in different forums; I want my thoughts to be fresh and purely mine, even at the risk of banality or overlooking something.
What I had done is listened to some of Siegel's other "Keyboard Conversations" (a trademarked title, forsooth) from a library CD set. The one on Beethoven in particular got into more detail than this lighter survey of lighter American music, and the more detail it got into, the more annoying it became. Too much repetition of phrases, too much demonstration of how a rondo theme recurs by playing it over and over during the talk.
And the kiss of death, a bit of composer psychoanalysis, blessedly absent from the live show. Siegel believes that the Moonlight Sonata expresses Beethoven's feelings about his encroaching deafness: the first movement is his despair and loneliness, the third movement his rage. But in that case, what's the second movement, which is brief and cheerful? It doesn't sound like someone faking it for purposes of social lubrication, and in any case Beethoven was famously disinclined to the social graces at any time.
Could it be that Beethoven wrote that movement not to portray his emotions, but to express a particular mood for purely artistic purposes? And if it can be that, then could not the other two be of the same kind? Could it therefore be, then, that presuming the nature of Beethoven's emotions and cherry-picking pieces that seem to fit them is merely projection and guesswork on the part of the analyst, and is, in fact, another case of critics just making sht up?