Elisabeth Leonskaja at Wigmore Hall – Beethoven & Berg

Fantasy in G minor, Op.77
Piano Sonata, Op.1
Piano Sonata No.17 in D minor, Op.31/2 (The Tempest)

Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 27 October, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Elisabeth Leonskaja. Photograph: Julia WeselyElisabeth Leonskaja has a modest and immediately endearing performance manner. She began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall almost before she had completely sat down, seemingly unable to contain the urge to make music. Such an approach suited the torrential descents Beethoven assigns to the right-hand at the beginning of his Fantasy, by turns restless and charming. This performance found Leonskaja despatching the tricky runs with comparative ease but making an unfortunate error on the final note. She carefully inhabited the work’s different moods, and managed to unite its disparate threads.

The sense of musical exploration ran through into the Berg, an intelligent piece of programming. From its outset Alban Berg’s first-published work looks forward to a new world, facing away from conventional harmonies and compressing its structure to give music of great intensity. From Leonskaja we heard a reading of intimacy – it often felt as though there were only two people in the room. This meticulously detailed rendition also had a clear direction that embraced the bigger structure in a wholly satisfying way.

Retaining an air of mystery, the opening chords of Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata hung for what seemed like an eternity. This was an arresting if subdued opening, Leonskaja holding on for as long as she could before beginning the Allegro. Even here she lingered daringly, resolving only at the last moment the dissonances that are such a feature of the main theme. Such an approach could only work with the utmost control, and Leonskaja maintained the tension at the beginning of the second movement, which picks up with a very similar chord to the first. Here there was wonderful and lyrical phrasing. The finale pressed forward determinedly but with impressive detail and continually sensitive shaping.

Such command extended to Leonskaja’s encore, a beautifully rendered account of Chopin’s D flat Nocturne, Opus 27/2.

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