Bach, transcribed Busoni
Choral Preludes – Nun komm’ des Heiden Heiland, BWV659; Komm Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist, BWV667
Piano Sonata in D, Op.53 (Waldstein)
Piano Sonata in B minor, Op.58
Lenda do caboclo
A três Marias
Iberia – Book I: Evocación
Albéniz, completed de Séverac
Nelson Freire (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 27 June, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Quite why Nelson Freire changed his programme wasn’t made clear. Anyway, gone was Schumann’s Kinderszenen, Beethoven’s ‘Les adieux’ Sonata, a Bach Prelude arranged Siloti and ‘Triana’ from Albéniz’s Iberia. He opened with two of Bach’s Chorale Preludes transcribed by Busoni and played them in reverse order to that shown in the programme insert! Thus ‘Nun komm…’ made for an introspective opening to the recital, an expressive and hauntingly sotto voce reading, the atmosphere created somewhat dissipated by vacuous applause which Freire cut into with ‘Komm, Gott Schöpfer’, played with superb address and bell-pealing joy.
Freire is blessed with a transcendental technique and this was undiminished throughout the evening. Such dexterity is always in the service of the music, however, and while the first movement of the ‘Waldstein’ was rapid-fire and (too) unvarying in swiftness one was never conscious of mere display, but, despite many well-judged dynamic contrasts and a consistently warm tone, greater phrasal flexibility was craved as was something more momentous in terms of revealing the music’s motivation. The slow movement and finale benefited more from Freire’s directness, even if some literalness crept into the latter. The conundrum was, however, is that here was a master technician who is first and foremost a musician who seems to set too straight a path yet unveils a range of touch and colour that beguiles the ear without making quite a similar conquest of the senses.
Similar thoughts occupied a lot of Chopin’s B minor Sonata; a first movement so severely integrated that it seemed all over in a flash (exposition repeat eschewed) yet given with the pianist’s same fine regard for tonal modulation; a scherzo dispatched with astonishing quicksilver lightness; and, then, a slow movement that at its mid-point melted to heartfelt ravishing. The finale was articulate, poised and climactically well-judged, while the Villa-Lobos items were played innately, with filigree delicacy and with a lilt unexaggerated but suggestive enough and with technical challenges absorbed in the music-making process. The Albéniz pieces were not the last word in being languid and sun-drenched – but do they need to be? – yet more expanse in ‘Evocation’ would have been welcome for all the rapt quality so gratefully evident and a similar doubt was felt in Navarra (Déodat de Séverac’s completion rather than the more recent and substantial one by William Bolcom) in which greater flexibility seemed needed.
The three encores included Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits (as transcribed by Sgambati), quite wonderfully done, another piece of Villa-Lobos (I think) and, finally, a little something of Mompou, again exquisitely played.