Cédric Tiberghien – Brahms & Bartók

Klavierstücke, Op.76
Out of Doors
3 Hungarian Folksongs from Csik
Mikrokosmos, Book VI – 6 Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm
6 Romanian Folk Dances
Hungarian Dances [selection of 10]

Cédric Tiberghien (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 18 September, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Cédric Tiberghien. ©Eric ManasCédric Tiberghien is a striking pianist. I had the pleasure of hearing him almost three years ago – in a most sensitively thought-out rendering of Book II of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier during which he visibly communed with the music before, during and after each Prelude and Fugue.

Here Tiberghien performed Brahms and Bartók. What a contrast – with Bach and with each other!

This Wigmore Hall programme was carefully organised and the playing masterful. Tiberghien’s technical prowess is astonishing – as is his stamina. He gave himself no respite. He looked at each piece afresh with a mind and spirit energetically open.

He treated the Capriccios and Intermezzos of Brahms’s Opus 76 primarily as brilliant showpieces. There was little of the “old sensualist” (allegedly George Bernard Shaw’s dictum). This was Brahms writing stirringly and evocatively – suggesting melody rather than delivering it, an abstract music, albeit in highly Romantic terms. Tiberghien then set about displaying the astounding range of pianistic techniques that Brahms uses, giving these pieces their highly original variability. He played brilliantly, with sensitivity and panache; Brahms emerged still young in spirit, vigorous and searching.

Cédric Tiberghien. ©Eric ManasBartók’s Out of Doors was not dissimilar. It is a showpiece of techniques purveying outdoor sounds familiar in the peasants’ countryside – bagpipes, frogs, birds, night-sounds and a violent chase in the undergrowth. Bartók translates all of these into an idiom flaunting the neo-classical style of the 1920s and flourishing his particular contribution, the aggressively percussive piano. Here, as in Brahms, Tiberghien revelled in the fiendishly difficult and varied techniques that Bartók demands.

The second half of the recital, was no less of a display, but rather more mellow. Tiberghien played the first of Folksongs with exemplary sensitivity and dignified restraint – almost with his tongue in his cheek. The other dances – from Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania – all had their awkward, quirky, angular accompaniments, so testing technically as to engage many a pianist’s concentration totally. Tiberghien, on top of these difficulties, let the folk-melodies sing through – modestly as part of piano’s sound-making. This was as it should be. What fascinated Bartók were different techniques that peasants employed, such as ‘additive’ rhythms, alternating duple and triple time, and the precipitous running-together of dances.

Brahms’s Hungarian dances are hardly ‘ethnic’. Many are superior adaptations of other composers’ works; most derive from the gypsy culture rather than peasant culture that Bartók explored. They are nevertheless, vigorous, rousing and tuneful: glorious melody singing its head off. In the familiar first Dance (in G minor) Tiberghien played the famous tune steadily and firmly as a rich, sustained melody with a surging life of its own; the faster interjections, usually breaking the melody up raucously, were minimal and quite quiet. Then mayhem started! More and more exciting!

A master-pianist with a searching musical intellect was giving his all to a blockbuster. A few of his decisions were unsuccessful (momentary tempo changes, for example), but splendidly vigorous if rather too elegantly controlled for Brahms’s heat – a Gallic take on the great Hamburger. There were even times when Tiberghien’s ‘style’ bordered on being mannered. I didn’t mind. Overriding these quibbles was the thrill of hearing such a vibrant and refined musical intelligence encountering these composer-colossi and making exhilarating sense of their works. Tiberghien’s encore was Brahms’s most famous Waltz – played as sophisticated, beguiling and naïf.

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