Krystian Zimerman at Royal Festival Hall – Chopin

Nocturne in F sharp, Op.15/2
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.35
Scherzo in B flat, Op.31
Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58
Barcarolle, Op.60

Krystian Zimerman (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 February, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Krystian ZimermanA keen sense of expectancy was felt in both the foyer and the auditorium of the Royal Festival Hall (and no doubt a sense of disappointment from those unsuccessful in the ‘returns’ queue) – a rare appearance by Krystian Zimerman playing music by birthday-boy Chopin, born 200 years ago, possibly on this very day, or, if not, then it was 1 March, in which case Maurizio Pollini is on hand then to do the honours also in the RFH – a canny piece of programming from the good folk at promoters HarrisonParrott and Southbank Centre.

Zimerman opened with a Nocturne, immediately introducing the warm, attractively soft-focus piano-sound – a Steinway rebuilt Zimerman, one imagines – the music flowing, extemporised, beguilingly decorous, an intimate reverie. The first movement of the B flat minor Sonata was a tempest unleashed, no-nonsense, sections integrated, the exposition repeat observed but without returning to the slow introduction (as some scholars believe Chopin intended) but altogether too objective to seem merely relentless without any underlying soul – and drawing unfortunate applause (probably from the same crowd that indulged a collective coughing fit later on). The scherzo had the right sort of drive, though, the trio spellbinding; the ‘Funeral March’ was austere and glowering, tenderness contrasting at its mid-point; and the concise enigmatic finale opened up the (then) futurism of music. The B flat Scherzo was a miracle of liquidity, clarity and, in the trio, a blossoming of secrets, as the closing Barcarolle also was and which began as if in a dream; if the climax was over-loud and hectoring, the final bars were quite exquisite.

In the B minor Sonata – during which something or someone was catching Zimerman’s less-than-friendly attention – repeating the first-movement’s exposition seemed to elongate unnecessarily Zimerman’s consciously rigorous approach to this work as a whole – heroic impetuosity and contented lyricism informing the opening movement (after his overview of the corresponding section of the B flat minor Sonata Zimerman was now playing with fire), a scherzo that was a lightly-dazzling flight of fancy, its trio rapt, the slow movement given with sovereign touch and depth of utterance, and the finale – beginning with a masterclass on how to build a crescendo – was unforced and often-remarkable in its direct path. After the Barcarolle, the feeling was that you can chuck flowers at Zimerman and give him a standing ovation and you still won’t get an encore … and then he played a Chopin waltz in the most insouciant way.

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