Harrods International Piano Series 2001/2002 – 12th May

Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Images (Book 1 – Reflets dans l’eau; Hommage à Rameau; Mouvement)
Ile de Feu I & II (Quatre études de rythme)
Adagio in B minor, K540
Andante für eine Waltz in eine kleine Orgel, K616

Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 12 May, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Aimard’s championing of twentieth-century music is notable – Debussy, Ligeti and Messiaen especially. Conversely, Chopin at a Proms 2001 lunchtime recital disappointed; this RFH programme confirmed his strengths and weaknesses.

Opening each half with Mozart, Aimard’s observance of all repeats, delivered with little variety, made the B minor Adagio seem too long for its skeletal and withdrawn expression, while the mechanical organ confection, although charming, outstayed its welcome halfway through.

Aimard loves what he does – an affectionate smile or something more ecstatic greets a particular harmony or turn of phrase. This visual commitment, head-back gestures (and glasses) remind of the young Alfred Brendel. (Aimard has accompanied Brendel in his poetry-reading recitals.)

Aimard again proved an outstanding player of Debussy, as subtly nuanced, atmospheric and expressive as could be wished for; and the virtuoso clangour of Messiaen’s rhythmic studies could not have been more musically realised. Aimard convinces that there’s more to Messiaen than repetitive simplistic gestures soaked in spiritual fervour – his two encores from Vingt Regards enjoyed musical focus and emotional intensity, the second one sharing the same bare essentials as Mozart’s Adagio to bring the recital to a satisfying full-circle conclusion.

The Beethoven was not so compelling, if interesting. Maybe Aimard is playing some repertoire simply because it is there. His ’Appassionata’, despite many incidental felicities, was not sustained as a whole. Shapely phrasing and thoughtful dynamic contrasts testified to Aimard’s musicianship, though some technical limitations worried slightly.

Attempting and attaining were not always commensurate in Aimard’s rather lightweight traversal, inconsistently identified, and shy of the big statement. Aimard’s Boulezian relish of certain aspects of the sonata – harmonic, colouristic and touch – confirmed his partial view, which had warmed come the ’Finale’, the coruscating coda more or less delivered as scripted. The ’Andante con moto’ was curious (likeable if not wholly convincing) for being gentle, in a Haydnesque sense, Aimard’s pedalling adding impressionistic harmonic blends. Aimard tried very hard, although the more he tried the less he achieved – a small-scale ’Appassionata’ when considered against Richter’s transcendentalism, Brendel’s observances, Weissenberg’s emotion-spilling or the rigour of Pollini, the latter just a few months ago in this very hall.

  • The next Harrods recital is given by Boris Berman – Chopin, Debussy and Prokofiev – on 22 May in the Royal Festival Hall
  • Box Office: 020 7960 4242 www.rfh.org.uk

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