Elisabeth Leonskaja at Wigmore Hall – Schumann, Liszt & Tchaikovsky

Papillons, Op.2
Années de pèlerinage: Deuxième année (Italie) – Sonetto 104 del Petrarca
Piano Sonata in G, Op.37 (Grand Sonata)

Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 22 April, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Elisabeth Leonskaja. Photograph: Julia WeselyElisabeth Leonskaja opened this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert with Schumann’s Papillons, the collection of short pieces inspired by Jean Paul’s novel Flegeljahre. Within this the composer explores two contrary aspects of his own personality, the extrovert Florestan and the introvert Eusebius. These were successfully matched by Leonskaja, the faster music taking on a breathless enthusiasm and the quieter asides were persuasively played. The triple-time meter found through most of the seventh piece had an attractive lilt, the pianist bringing out fully the dance elements of Schumann’s writing, while the closing paragraphs were beautifully turned, Schumann’s fanfare fading into the distance but Leonskaja leaving the sustaining pedal depressed to keep its memory fresh.

The mood turned a little darker for Liszt, although Leonskaja was careful to play within herself, to keep the virtuosity measured, and to ensure the right-hand octaves in particular had no ‘clang’. There was a deep sense of passion bubbling beneath the surface, especially when the main theme returned, and the rubato used felt fully appropriate within the spirit of rapt contemplation.

Tchaikovsky draws from both Schumann and Liszt in his ‘Grand’ Sonata, a substantial work that doesn’t have too many performances, but which was championed by Leonskaja’s teacher and friend, Sviatoslav Richter. The temptation is to go hell-for-leather in the bold opening, but Leonskaja was careful not to overdo the bravura of the dotted-note theme, leaving enough in reserve for its return. It wasn’t all blood and thunder in the first movement though, with moments of introspection. Because of the Sonata’s lopsided dimensions the third and fourth movements can be viewed almost as one, though Leonskaja was keen not to leave any pauses between movements. There was a deeply felt Andante that quickly became a capricious scherzo, and the finale was a convincing rounding-off that brought Tchaikovsky’s distinctive thematic material back for another welcome airing, before Leonskaja finished off decisively.

For a generous encore we were given a dexterous and humorous account of the first movement of Mozart’s F major Piano Sonata (K332), her eyes sparkling with enjoyment as she played.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content