Jonathan Gilad

Sonata in F, K332
The Four Ballades – in G minor, Op.23; in F, Op.38; in A flat, Op.47; in F minor, Op.52

Jonathan Gilad (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 30 October, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Hearing Chopin’s four Ballades presented consecutively is quite an experience and a chance to appreciate the composer’s mastery of the form, with the common features of the short prelude, the lilting 6/8 metre and the narrative style given a new twist with each work.

Following Chopin’s progression from the relatively sombre subject of the G minor First Ballade to the powerful climax of the F minor proved a fascinating experience under the fingers of Jonathan Gilad, a promising pianist greatly admired by Daniel Barenboim. So involved was Gilad that climactic points saw him almost standing as he leant into the keyboard.

Gilad’s technique is impeccably polished if somewhat clinical; as a result, some expressive opportunities were sacrificed. That said, there were many reasons to commend his performances through the cycle, and the sense of a journey resolved was palpable in the Fourth Ballade’s closing pages.

Most successful for Gilad was the Second, his presentation of the initially comforting theme spot-on before becoming sombre and uncertain as the key switched to A minor. The climax hit a little too hard, but the pause that followed was dramatically placed, the ending solemn where the start had been tranquil.

Gilad followed this with a wispy, charming Third Ballade, again restful in its opening prelude but with a loud peal of octaves when the central theme took hold. Here the polished playing, again most impressive technically, could have done with more rubato to lend it expressive weight.

The outer Ballades were likewise extremely well-played. The imposing upbeat of the First gave way to a softly spoken theme, though the sparkling right-hand passages that ensued were dominated by too loud a bass; however, in the final Ballade Gilad showed real delicacy and a greater sense of rubato. This made all the difference as the big climax was immediately dampened by beautifully soft chords, before the final headlong rush to the finish.

Gilad offered a floated Prelude in G sharp minor, the twelfth in Chopin’s Opus 28 set, as a sensitively played encore.

To preface the Ballades, Gilad chose the enigmatic F major Sonata by Mozart. More could have been made of the immediate drama that sees the music swing rapidly into a disruptive D minor, though the following syncopated passages were well done.

After a slow movement tarnished by coughing from the audience, Gilad saved his best moment for the finale, one of Mozart’s ‘false endings’ projected so well it had me completely fooled. Assuming this to be a genuine ‘wrong’ note as written by the composer, it was a good example of Gilad’s impressive attention to detail.

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