Someone was heard to say Pagans! when a few of the audience applauded the sonatas first movement an apt censure. The B minor requires continuity and Virsaladze obviously wanted to dive into the Scherzo. Having given a magisterial account of the opening Allegro maestoso virile and fastidious aspects contrasted ideally and balanced equably, Virsaladze convincing that the exposition repeat isnt necessary the Scherzo was slightly effortful, yet the Largo was sublime and the Finale, more measured than usual, proved a triumph of summation. A long-viewed and musical rendition no need for Virsaladze to distort the line or use the music for self-promotion.
Virsaladze, the Tbilisi-born pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus (Richters teacher) and Yakov Zak, turns 60 this September and is herself now a professor in Moscow. She displayed her musical prowess from the off the nocturnes, which were focussed from the first note and enveloped the listener in pure tone and limpid phrasing; and what a wonderful acoustic the Wigmore has so immediate even in the critics seats at the back of the Hall.
Just occasionally worthy rather than inspired the Barcarolle and Fantaisie her lyrical playing and judicious intertwining between the hands was a constant joy, her lineage marked by some deliberate left- before right-hand expression. Both waltzes enjoyed magical inflections, Virsaladze revealing the underlying sadness of Op.70/2 and stilling the audience in the process, as she did in the A minor Mazurka (from Op.68) with wonderfully expressive trills. That first encore was followed by another waltz, in A flat (Op.34/1), delivered with bravura and no eye on the gallery.
Such demonstration hadnt always been her way, although discretion paid dividends in the so-called Heroic Polonaise, here sounding new-minted and less banal than usual. Virsaladzes scrupulous playing and her structure-conscious interpretations may have kept the Polonaise-Fantaisie within classical parameters but, as throughout the recital, there was no lack of emotional address and countless moments when she must have melted the hardest of hearts and transported the listener.
In this recital Chopin emerged with top billing and Elisso Virsaladze as a must-hear next time shes in town.
- Unfortunately deleted in the UK, but worth seeking out second-hand, is MELODIYA 74321 33216 2 - Volume 18 of "Russian Piano School", 1970s Chopin recordings by Virsaladze including the B minor sonata.