Captivating Chopin – Elisso Virsaladze, Wigmore Hall, 20 July

Barcarolle in F sharp, Op.60
Fantaisie in F minor, Op.49
Nocturnes, Op.27 – in C sharp minor & D flat
Polonaise in A flat, Op.53
Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat, Op.61
Sonata in B minor, Op.58
Waltzes – in A flat, Op.69/1 & F minor, Op.70/2

Elisso Virsaladze (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 20 July, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This was a recital that word-of-mouth had been touting for several days: don’t miss. This wasn’t hype or indiscriminate banter. Rather this was informed opinion. Elisso Virsaladze did not disappoint the private publicity.

Someone was heard to say “Pagans!” when a few of the audience applauded the sonata’s 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 isn’t 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.

Elisso VirsaladzeVirsaladze, the Tbilisi-born pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus (Richter’s 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 hadn’t always been her way, although discretion paid dividends in the so-called ‘Heroic’ Polonaise, here sounding new-minted and less banal than usual. Virsaladze’s 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 she’s 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.

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