Boris Giltburg at Wigmore Hall – Prokofiev, Schumann & Rachmaninov

Piano Sonata No.4 in C minor, Op.29
Papillons, Op.2
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.36 [revised version]

Boris Giltburg (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 12 March, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Sergei Prokofiev’s piano sonatas do not get that much exposure in the concert hall, other than those in the so called ‘war trilogy’ (numbers 6-8), which the composer completed in 1939. These are notable for their concentration of form and emotion, yet the Fourth, written in 1918, is no less profound in its expression.

Boris Giltburg began his BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert with this C minor Sonata, music dedicated to a good friend of the composer’s, Maximilian Schmidthof, who committed suicide in 1913. As a subtext, the work has the nickname ‘From Old Notebooks’, with reference to material used from sketches dating from up to ten years earlier. Perhaps because of this, and the circumstances of the dedication, the work often has a distracted air. Giltburg portrayed this very well in the first two movements, striving for clarity in the face of darker, fragmented thoughts. The percussive elements to Prokofiev’s piano-writing were enhanced by the more metallic timbre of the Fazioli piano, Giltburg’s own. The slow movement, more introverted still and troubled by doubt, found Giltburg leaning into the piano as if inhabiting the music, with good attention to detail in the clipped staccato notes. Gradually a more positive frame of mind was established through the finale, Giltburg revelling in the sweeping glissandos that signal the positive if rather hollow conclusion.

Schumann’s Papillons was a nicely chosen complement, the twelve miniatures always a joy to behold. Some of Schumann’s most delicate and delightful music is here, and by avoiding too much stress on the first beat of the bar, Giltburg was able to keep the triple-time dances on their toes, Giltburg’s rubato expressing his affection for the music. If only this had transferred to some in the audience and their unfortunately timed coughs.

For the third consecutive Monday a Rachmaninov sonata closed proceedings – completing performances of the three mature works he wrote in the genre. This was the revised version of the Second Piano Sonata, made in 1931. Giltburg opened with all guns blazing, the Fazioli impressive in its clarity if unstinting in its volume. That said there was delicacy in the chromatic sleights of the first movement’s second subject, as there was in the Non allegro second, which followed without a break. The finale, also begun with barely a pause, was superbly executed, bold and triumphant, with the many and varied technical demands seemingly no obstacle to Giltburg, a pianist of redoubtable talent. As a well-chosen encore he offered Rachmaninov’s arrangement of Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid.

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