Cédric Tiberghien at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Scherzo in B minor, Op.20
Three Mazurkas – in E, Op.6/3; in E minor, Op.17/2; in A minor, Op.17/4
Ballade in G minor, Op.23
Two Mazurkas – in C minor, Op.24/2; in B flat minor, Op.24/4
Scherzo in B flat minor, Op.31
Four Mazurkas – Impromptu a la Mazur in C, Op.2/3; in E minor, Op.3/7; in C sharp minor, Op.3/6; in E minor, Op.25/3
Five Mazurkas – in C, Book 1/3; in D, Book 1/4; in A minor, Book 3/1; in E minor, Book 3/3; in C, Book 1/9
Two Mazurkas – Op.50/1 & 7
Three Mazurkas, Op.59 – in A minor; in A flat; in F sharp minor
Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat, Op.61

Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 19 January, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Cédric Tiberghien. ©Eric ManasThe most surprising thing about Cédric Tiberghien’s Chopin-dominated recital was the extent to which he scaled down the dynamic range of the music, and the consistency he applied to this approach, in order the give the music far broader expressive scope. As those who have heard this superbly gifted young French pianist in concertos will know, he is not afraid of a robust, big sound, but the overwhelming impression here was of a fastidiously measured inwardness, created with the utmost finesse. It had the effect of deminiaturising the mazurkas (which he, paradoxically, describes as miniatures at the start of the programme note) sandwiched between the larger-scale works. Tiberghien’s playing was also about as far removed from the overtly public style of, say, Berezovsky or Kissin, and it took a while to get your ear in.

The rampant brilliance you often get in the opening pages of the B minor Scherzo was nearer to a ghostly flickering, and the slow middle section was mesmerisingly remote, almost in a state of suspended animation. Just occasionally in the G minor Ballade, I was so stretching to catch the ultimate caressed nuance that the weight and tragedy of one of Chopin’s finest achievements rather went by the by, although he pulled out the stops for the closing bars, to shattering effect. Conversely, the B flat minor Scherzo, the rhetoric of which can easily leak into bombast, if anything needed more air than Tiberghien was prepared to administer.

The groups of Mazurkas, however, proved the validity of what he was doing. In Opus 6/Number 3, the sound he produced was so graded it seemed as though there was a dialogue going on between two pianos, and his seductive teasing of rhythm added to its fragile charm. In Opus 17/Number 4, Tiberghien pushed the boundaries of pale melancholy to a degree I’d not thought possible, even in this essay in remote distraction, where even the decorative flourishes compound its aura of inertia. It was a performance I shall long treasure.

Cédric Tiberghien. ©Eric ManasOf course, Tiberghien’s extremes of inwardness really showed off his easy-looking, powerful technique, his minimalist pedalling and, above all, a fantastic touch, or perhaps I should say fantastic touches, which so distinguish and complement his inherent musicianship – touches that not only do loud and soft, but also create density of sound – a pianissimo that fills the hall; a fortissimo that doesn’t give you a migraine – range of colour, type of attack – the list is endless.

The Scriabin Mazurkas didn’t add much to our appreciation, either of him or Chopin. The first two could almost have been by Chopin, the third wandered daintily in a world of fairy fantasy that is not at all Chopin’s bag, and the last ventured into the realm of murky, suffocating mysticism which Scriabin made so surely his own – and which he can keep. The five Mazurkas by the long-lived Polish composer Aleksander Tansman (1897-1986) had their own distinctive 20th-century voice, as did the two by Szymanowski.

Tiberghien closed with Chopin’s great Polonaise-Fantaisie, in a performance marked more by reflective, beautifully shaped lyricism than melancholic grandeur. Tiberghien offered one encore, another Chopin Mazurka, possibly his very final piece.

I went with a yoga teacher who does a lot of work with musicians and dancers, and she was much impressed by the way Tiberghien sits at the piano, so that everything is balanced and centred. It certainly seemed part of the extraordinary way his playing connects.

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