Harrods International Piano Series 2001/2002 – 22nd May

ChopinPolonaise-fantaisie in A flat, Op.61
Nocturnes in F, F sharp and G minor, Op.15
Scherzo No.1 in B minor, Op.20
Préludes, Book II – La puerta del vino; Ondine; La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune; General Lavine – eccentric
Romeo and Juliet – Montagues and Capulets, Dance of the girls with lilies, Mercutio (from Op.75)
Piano Sonata No.7 in B flat, Op.83

Boris Berman (piano)

Reviewed by: Mark E Croasdale

Reviewed: 22 May, 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The first half comprised of Chopin, and initially Berman’s playing was indifferent. Detracting from his interpretation of the Polonaise was an overly expansive introduction followed by a galloping main section. Once Berman started to settle he redeemed himself with a limpid slow episode followed by an exciting and heroic reprise of the main theme. In the first of the three Op.15 Nocturnes, Berman, although appealingly unfussy, was often dispassionate, albeit the last time in this recital that he could be thought erratic or indifferent. The highlight was the F sharp Nocturne, Berman a model of elegance, a good basic tempo allowing comfortable ornamentation, a modicum of tasteful rubato, and an unmannered, refreshingly effective approach. Berman’s smoothness kept the slightly-too-fast central section agitated rather than feverish, and he coped supremely well in the mazurka-like G minor through graceful rubato, the long central section building a tense harmonic transition towards the calm flow of plaintive chords. The Scherzo was exciting; Berman’s precise clarity stayed on the human side of brilliance. If the slow middle lacked subtlety, the energy of the outer sections more than compensated.

After the interval, Berman looked and felt much more at ease with a well-chosen selection of Debussy preludes, distinguished by delicate use of colour and inspired timing. ’La puerta del vino’ was notable for contrasting moods that were never so violent as to be harsh and uncontrolled, nor so sweet that passion wilted into adoration. For ’Ondine’, Berman employed a feather touch in the upper register, fleetingly tinged with malice. At his finest in ’La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’, Berman created a rich, warm tone of dampened bell-like sounds and built a superb crescendo in a rare passage rising out of the hushed atmosphere. General Lavine’s eccentricities were made humorous by Berman’s phrasal give and take.

If maybe an item too much, Berman played three of Prokofiev’s ten piano transcriptions from his ballet Romeo and Juliet (Op.64) as everything they should be: respectively broad and bombastic, sensitive and graceful, and lively. He concluded with the second of Prokofiev’s ’War Sonatas’, Berman unifying the work through related tempi and awesome technical command that always served the music; variations of pace, subtle rubato and dynamic changes were effective. The stridency of the opening ’Allegro inquieto’ was vibrantly raw but never metallic, the temporally ambiguous ’Andantino’ section kept moving with judicious use of the sustaining pedal and inspired phrasing to maintain tension and malevolence, overall unity emphasised by not reducing the second movement, ’Andante caloroso’, to gushing sentimentality. Berman concentrated on the sonata’s rhythmic rather than barbaric qualities and in the concluding ’Precipitato’ he conquered the awkward syncopated chords and transient melodic intervals with seamless ease.

  • The next Harrods recital is given by Garrick Ohlsson – Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov – on 5 June in the Royal Festival Hall
  • Box Office: 020 7960 4242 www.rfh.org.uk

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