Martin Helmchen

Variations on Ah vous dirai-je maman, K265
Moments Musicaux, D780 – No.1 in C, No.3 in F minor, No.5 in F minor, No.6 in A flat
Piano Sonata in C, Op.53 (Waldstein)

Martin Helmchen (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 18 December, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

With Christmas trees either side of the platform there was a festive feel to the last BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert of 2006 from the Wigmore Hall, expanded upon in Martin Helmchen’s choice of concert opener.

Mozart’s Variations on the tune we know as ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ impressed with the pianist’s clarity of delivery as Helmchen found the playfulness of the exchange between the hands in the fourth variation, the surprising emptiness of the minor-key eighth, and a nicely balanced, slower tempo for the tenth.

The mostly exuberant set contrasted nicely with Schubert’s relatively introspective and elusive Moments Musicaux, of which Helmchen selected four. The yearning harmonies of the tender Sixth were particularly affecting, even if Helmchen was rather liberal with the sustaining pedal here. The Fifth was not as driven as it might have been, nor as staccato in delivery, but Helmchen’s command of the keyboard was nonetheless evident, as it was in the sprightly march of No.3.

A bracing ‘Waldstein’ followed, Helmchen securing a dramatic performance of a work whose innovations continue to amaze. The first movement was a bit too ‘con brio’, the fast passagework rushed and over-dramatised at times, but Helmchen showed commendable structural awareness as he contrasted these more explosive moments with the tenderness of the second theme.

The intervening Adagio held its breath, more of an introduction to the final movement than an outright slow movement, though the subsequent Rondo theme felt like too much of a relaxation, as the sustaining pedal over-compensated again. As Helmchen brought the intensity back the music danced more, and the double-speed coda, surprisingly calm at the outset, brought a bustling interpretation to an emphatic finish.

A fifth Moment Musical served as an encore, in this case the Second of the set, and it saw Helmchen once again giving Schubert’s elusive harmonies plenty of room. Martin Helmchen is clearly a pianist of great promise, and this recital capped a most impressive series of “New Generation Artist” recitals at the Wigmore Hall this year.

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