Boris Giltburg at Wigmore Hall [Beethoven Appassionata, Brahms & Prokofiev]

Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Intermezzos – in B flat minor, Op.117/2; in A, Op.118/2; in E minor, Op.119/2
Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.14

Boris Giltburg (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 8 June, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Boris Giltburg. Photograph: Eric RichmondMoscow-born, 25-year-old Israel-citizen Boris Giltburg began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert with a blistering account of Beethoven’s ‘Appassionata’ Sonata, a stormy interpretation indeed that rather lacked subtlety in the faster music. The well-prepared first movement was helped by Giltburg’s half-a-minute’s silence before playing, maximising the impact of the bare opening octaves. As the music progressed, the storm-clouds gathered, though the inside parts became rather brittle even if Giltburg found a stately quality for the second theme, particularly on its return. For the Andante, Giltburg was hunched over the piano to observe the solemn theme with commendable restraint, gradually lightening the mood. The finale was rather unhinged, Giltburg powering through the final pages as something of a display piece.

Giltburg was at his best in Prokofiev’s Second Piano Sonata (1912), a work that marries late Romanticism with the beginnings of the composer’s enfant terrible style, fully realised in Paris soon after. Giltburg found this combination perfectly, racing through the scherzo with a terrific sense of reckless abandon. Unfortunately this led to a significant wrong note at the end, though by then the spirit of the music had been ideally caught. By contrast the Andante had some awkward tensions, with its often-changing time-signature and meandering harmonies. In particular the watery treble textures towards the end were beautifully rendered. Both outer movements were also brilliantly played, with exaggerated rubato in the finale sending-up the stilted middle theme; a nice touch.

In between these two fiery sonatas Giltburg chose three of Brahms’s intermezzos, one each from his last three published collections of piano pieces. The falling theme of the first piece brought a sense of melancholy, whilst Giltburg’s slightly airy approach suited the gentle excerpt from Opus 118. He was willing on several occasions to give the music plenty of time, without becoming too nonchalant, though in the second of the Opus 119 collection, he pushed forward with greater purpose.

A sensitive approach to some of Brahms’s intimate last musical thoughts was matched in Giltburg’s choice of encore, the first of Scriabin’s Opus 2 studies. After the initial romantic flourish, in the home key of C sharp minor, the pianist’s attention to detail and restraint were the principal features, a welcome contrast to the Prokofiev.

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