Francesco Piemontesi at Wigmore Hall – Janáček, Beethoven & Stravinsky

Sonata 1.X.1905 (From the Street)
Piano Sonata in A, Op.101
Stravinsky, arr. Agosti
The Firebird – Three Dances

Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 20 December, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Francesco Piemontesi. Photograph: Marco BorggreveAn intelligently planned BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert explored two alternative approaches to the conventional four-movement format of the piano sonata.

Despite Janáček throwing the third movement of his Piano Sonata into the Vltava River, the resultant two-movement work became a fully satisfying and emotive whole. Francesco Piemontesi found the core of the Adagio, but stopped short of the anguish the composer portrays in the more volatile first movement. Curious, too, was the pianist’s use of the sustaining pedal, with some notes lingering too long in the air or being brought off with a slight ring to the timbre. That said, the Adagio (subtitled ‘Death’) was given the contemplative space it needed, the oft-recurring theme containing the peculiarly barbed lyricism that characterises the best of Janáček’s piano scores.

The thoughtful opening of Beethoven’s Opus 101 was the perfect response to this, Piemontesi easing the move from contemplation back to something more immediate. A carefully studied march revealed its dotted theme well-defined in the right-hand, Piemontesi leaning close to the keyboard as he sought to bring out the internal counterpoint, while the harmonic tension of the Adagio was heightened by rubato.

Too often the tendency with Stravinsky transcriptions for piano is to go hell-for-leather, treating the piano as if it was a percussion instrument. Piemontesi’s approach to the three Firebird movements, arranged in 1928 by Guido Agosti, was far more subtle and musical. The fiendish virtuoso demands were still clear, but while dazzlingly quick in its finger-work, the ‘Infernal Dance’ was still exquisitely shaded. Likewise the ‘Lullaby’ was beautifully coloured, its ostinato set fractionally apart between the hands to simulate the colouring for viola and harp. The ‘Finale’, too, was ideally paced and poised, Piemontesi keeping himself in check until the last, massive peroration.

The pianist continued to a thoughtful encore, the Minuet from Handel’s Suite in B flat (HWV434), notable again for its tasteful rubato as well as its clarity.

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