Andrew Zolinsky

Piano Sonata No.2
Sonata in D [Hob.XV1:24]
6 Etudes [London premieres of Revised Versions of Numbers 1-4]
Black Lantern [London premiere of Revised Version]
Piano Sonata in B minor

Andrew Zolinsky (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 8 May, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This was the second recital in a row I have been to where the Wigmore Hall was three-quarters empty, although in this case it was not hard to see why. Andrew Zolinsky won the largely unknown – in this country – San Francisco International Piano Concerto Competition in 1998 and has mainly been promoted in the UK as a performer of contemporary and offbeat repertoire. Certainly the programme would have discouraged many, with the mainstream works of Tippett, Haydn and Liszt juxtaposed with pieces by contemporary composers. But those who stayed away out of fear or indifference missed a fascinating recital, which, while flawed, showcased an artist who has great potential.

Tippett’s marvellous virtuoso assault received a brilliant performance, with each section carefully differentiated and with the recurring double octave fusillades sounding unnervingly like the finale of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Zolinksy’s beautiful bell-like tone leading to the glissando-led episode was especially refined, and the frequently used fanfare-like passages were powerfully and cleanly delivered. Unlike many young pianists, Zolinksy clearly realises that the quality of the pianos and acoustic at the Wigmore Hall make excessive use of the pedals totally unnecessary.

In the Haydn Zolinksy eschewed any great dynamic variation: everything was sotto voce and self-contained. The same could be said of the two remaining movements: the sound was very beautiful, with exquisite trills in the Adagio, but more variety was needed. An occasional pause, use of rubato, and greater rhythmic emphasis would have brought the work more to life. There was also some untidy detailing in the slow movement.

In his programme note Zolinsky states that in Chin’s Etudes: “She often asks for the impossible” and certainly there were a hell of a lot of notes. The opening ‘Scherzo ad libitum’ was well chosen in that its delicacy of texture evoked the world of Haydn. Each of the pieces is etched out in a different soundworld. I was struck by the highlighting of the extreme registers of the instrument and the use of overlapping rhythms, especially in the ‘Toccata’. What did worry me was the detached nature of the music. Clearly Chin is fascinated by the tonal capacity of a piano, but it was hard to distinguish any emotional substance. Nevertheless, these pieces deserve greater exposure and Zolinsky gave compelling performances of each one and revelled in their colour and shifting rhythmic patterns.

Holt’s Black Lanterns (as revised) here received its London premiere, and like the Chin the emphasis is on sound, with a motto theme being constantly transformed and pitted against violent tolling outbursts. I was often reminded of late Liszt pieces. Zolinsky made effective use of the piano’s bass register and clearly conveyed the scores multitude of tonal shadings. This is another piece I would like to hear again.

What could have been a tremendous performance of Liszt’s B minor Sonata was let down by Zolinsky’s desire to see the score in terms of sound rather than emotion. The first subject was slow with immaculate pedal control, the second subject lacked sweep and projection and there were loads of wrong notes, but the ‘grandioso’ third had nobility and finely graded dynamics. In the two slow sections one was drawn time and again to the beauty of the sound rather than the underlying emotion. The fugue needed more attack and panache, and a greater sense of carrying the argument forward. After the penultimate appearance of the third subject there was no sense of benediction, just exquisitely produced sound. In the build up to the third subject’s last appearance the score goes through an acceleration of pace before the massive chordal statement of the theme; here Zolinsky was too slow and controlled. In the epilogue he produced sounds I have never heard before, such was his control of pedals and touch – but it was detached, there being no true sense of questioning or peace.

As an encore Zolinsky played Messiaen’s Communion de la vierge, a typical piece of sprawling post-impressionist religiosity, and ideally suited to the pianist’s refinement. If Zolinsky can use sound as a means to end, rather than an end in itself, he could become a formidable concert artist.

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