Scherzo in B minor, Op.20
Piano Sonata in B flat minor, Op.35
Nocturne in C minor, Op.48/1
Cédric Tiberghien (piano)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 7 November, 2010
Venue: Royal Overseas League, Over-Seas House, Park Place, St James's Street, London SW1
This, the penultimate concert of The Chopin Society UK’s Bicentenary Series, was held in the august surroundings of The Royal Overseas League. Unfortunately its concert hall features swathes of plate-glass and plastic panelling, which makes the sound (and particularly the treble) rather shallow and piercing. Negotiating this ungratifying acoustic was Cédric Tiberghien, whose recording of Chopin’s complete Mazurkas has just been issued by Harmonia Mundi.
He opened with the B minor Scherzo. The first theme was angular and sparsely pedalled (if hardly Presto con fuoco, as marked) while the second subject brought a relaxation of tempo and some very fluid phrasing and dynamics that seemed to dissolve the bar-lines. The gorgeous central section flowed beautifully, but here the emphasis was on sound, not emotion (the finest performances of this music combine both). There was plenty of attack and power when the first section returned and only a few tempo changes. But here the leisurely speed robbed the music of much of its élan.
Tiberghien’s approach to the Mazurkas was highly distinctive. The Opus 68 set contains some incredibly sophisticated music and in the second of them Tiberghien’s rubato and colouring sounded completely spontaneous, as did the echo-effects in the right-hand. The variations of tempo and dynamics in the third of Opus 6 were superbly well-judged. Opus 17/Number 4 was taken very slowly, which, when combined with his superbly light touch and pedalling, made the ending sound almost spectral. The opening bars of Opus 24/Number 4 sounded like Debussy and the pedalling in the final piece was exceptional. And yet, what at first sounded like adventurous recreation gradually began to resemble artifice, as the dance-elements and basic structure of the pieces were lost.
The Piano Sonata’s opening was, however, understated, and there was a substantial slowing for the second subject where the right-hand was very expressive. After the exposition repeat, the emphatic opening of the development came as a jolt, but here tension dropped as Tiberghien’s playing became rather tame and episodic, although the climax was imposing. The scherzo was powerful, but the trio was too loud; in the Funeral March the mourners were in a hurry. Tiberghien’s smoothing-out of the beat didn’t work at this speed and the valedictory outbursts made little impact, and the central section was too loud and lacking in poetry, and the final movement was blurred and lacking in impetus.
In the Nocturne, for all of the beauty of sound and noble voicing of the chorale in the central section, when the music rises to a huge climax, the volume level was held at a uniformly high level for too long, and all subtlety disappeared. The finest performance of the afternoon came in the Polonaise-Fantasy, which sounded genuinely improvisatory. Its different sections were beautifully moulded together and Tiberghien’s command of rubato, pedals and touch was quite exceptional – a great performance. There was a rather indulgent Mazurka as an encore.