Nelson Goerner at Wigmore Hall/Chopin

Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op.61
Two Nocturnes, Op.62
Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise, Op.22
Twelve Studies, Op.10

Nelson Goerner (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 1 October, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Nelson GoernerIt’s a long time since I heard Chopin’s music revealed in all its baffling complexity, thanks to the gifted Argentinean pianist Nelson Goerner. His Wigmore Hall recital didn’t shy away from bravura display and extrovert heroism, yet an undertow of interior melancholy leavened with a quiet ferocity was always a ghostly, even hallucinatory presence.

This paradox was abundantly clear in the great Polonaise-Fantaisie, in which Goerner clearly understood, and just as clearly played, Chopin’s distracted, highly personal musings on the ethos of the Polonaise, with its subtle structure that stretches the listener’s concentration like no other of his works. Goerner’s way with the introduction was a masterpiece of veiled, oblique interpretation, and gave this work as a whole a psychological stature one rarely encounters. It also set in context the playful, youthful brilliance of the earlier Grande Polonaise, in which Goerner played up its exuberance rather than trying to annexe it to the grandeur of the later, more famous examples.

Any Chopin specialist who takes on either (or indeed both) of the two sets of Studies really puts his or her reputation on the line, especially in a recital. Each one contains prodigious technical demands – which could easily sustain a much larger work – but only lasts a few minutes. This particular pianistic road to hell is paved with good intentions. Even Rubinstein, who played individual Studies, never performed (or recorded) them complete.

Everything about Goerner’s playing of the Opus 10 set revealed his finely balanced, secure and non-showy musicianship, which gave the twelve studies as a whole an accumulative sense of structure as well as individually exposing his formidable technique, all filtered through a fastidious, reflective poise that would be entirely suited, say, to Bach.

As a virtuoso calling-card, this was very impressive playing – flawlessly even arpeggios in No.1, a wonderful legato and unusual sense of perspective in No.3, fantastically rapid and defined finger work in No.4, a surprising outburst of high spirits to rival Cortot (but without the mistakes) in No.8, and a fearlessly tempestuous ‘Revolutionary’. Goerner’s range of colour and touch, allied to clarity of technique and discretion of temperament, puts him on a par with the great Chopin pianists.

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