City of London Festival – Francesco Piemontesi [Chopin, Debussy & Schumann]

Prelude in C sharp minor, Op.45; Mazurka in A minor, Op.59/1;Mazurka in A flat, Op.50/2
Préludes – Book I [selection: Danseuses de Delphes; Voiles; La danse de Puck]
Kreisleriana, Op.16

Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 7 July, 2011
Venue: St Mary Abchurch, Abchurch Lane, London EC4

Francesco Piemontesi. Photograph: Marco BorggreveThere was more than a little confusion over the protocol for Francesco Piemontesi’s second visit to the City of London Festival, given in the appealing light of the square church of St Mary Abchurch. It was announced he would play groups of Chopin (the Opus 45 Prelude and three Mazurkas), and four Debussy Préludes, with each group to be bisected by applause (but why request the latter?). In the event the pianist performed two Mazurkas (unidentified in the programme) and ran straight into ‘Danseuses de Delphes’, the first of a Debussy threesome. While this provided musical continuity of an unexpected sort, it led to some quizzical looks from within the audience.

Piemontesi’s Chopin was relatively light to the touch, his performance of the lone (away from Opus 28) C sharp minor Prelude probing from the start of its left-hand melody. In the mazurkas a little more rhythmic definition would have been helpful, as the use of the sustaining pedal covered up some of the melodic joins. That said there was an authentic ring to the ornamentation, and swing to the dance in the A flat piece. The Debussy selection was well played but lacked the essential mystery behind this remarkable music. Part of that was the relative surprise at hearing it so soon after the Chopin, but in ‘Voiles’ Piemontesi created a reflective atmosphere but one that remained resolutely earthbound. ‘La danse de Puck’ was more enchanted and unpredictable, but would have benefitted from an extra touch of humour.

Last year the Swiss-born pianist gave an extremely accomplished performance of Schumann’s First Piano Sonata. This time around we heard a well prepared account of Kreisleriana, the eight-part collection of pieces dedicated to Chopin. There were many poetic insights here, from the surging romanticism of the opening to the beautiful lyricism of its successor, which is around three times the length of its companions, and its sudden departures to faster music were always tempered by the calm of the romance to which it returned. Piemontesi proved extremely adept at proceeding between moments of urgency and repose. The fifth piece, marked Sehr lebhaft, moved with particular intent. As so often with Kreisleriana, it was the last section that carried the greatest emotional weight, its strangely haunting theme like a restless butterfly. Piemontesi caught the essence of this quite beautifully and allowing silence to complete the performance. As an encore Piemontesi stayed with Schumann, the finale of Kinderszenen, ‘Der Dichter spricht’, which displayed the pianist’s poise and grace.

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