Etudes symphoniques, Op.13
Piano Sonata in G, D894
Elisabeth Leonskaja (piano)
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 8 December, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
There was a similar, but more justified, inclination towards monumentalism in the opening of Etudes symphoniques, at the slow end of ‘andante’, and although Leonskaja’s playing was undeniably heroic for the ‘brillante’ finale, not even she could disguise the music’s rather hectoring repetitiveness. Leonskaja was superb in the bubbling ‘Presto possible’ and gave the restless, winding accompaniment of the ninth variation a Chopin-inflected melancholy – and her command of colour and tone reverenced the ‘symphonic’ aspect in the work’s title.
Orchestral ambition was a theme running through Leonskaja’s recital, more perfectly realised in her performance of Schubert’s G major Piano Sonata. This was her mentor’s Sviatoslav Richter’s favourite Schubert sonata, and although Leonskaja didn’t take the first movement’s ‘molto’ marking to the same degree as Richter did, there was a similar other-worldliness to her overview. The way in which she nudged the music to become slightly more volatile and troubled in the first-movement exposition repeat clinched its symphonic stature, and her playing had the sort of focus and eloquence to allow the smallest detail to register. On the printed page, the music looks simple, but it’s precisely its non-showiness that requires extremes of control, allied to a sure sense of structure. The sonata’s orchestral ambitions relaxed in the other three movements, and she judged precisely the lowering of spiritual temperature to allow for a robust, danceable finale, full of earthy good-humour.
In music that stretched the instrument’s make-believe capabilities, Leonskaja’s pedalling and varieties of touch and attack were terrific, as was her by-now familiar, uncompromising stage-manner. She prolonged the recital’s orchestral link with a dazzling ‘Feux d’artifice’ (the last of Debussy’s Préludes) as her first encore, followed by one of Schubert’s Impromptus.