Pre-Valentine’s Day Concert – Julian Jacobson at St James’s Piccadilly – Mozart, Schumann, Scriabin, Prokofiev

Variations on ‘Unser dummer Pöbel meint’, K455
Fantasy in C, Op.17
Etude in E, Op.8/5; Poème in F sharp, Op.32/1; Etude in D sharp minor, Op.8/12
Piano Sonata No.6 in A, Op.82

Julian Jacobson (piano)

Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker

Reviewed: 13 February, 2015
Venue: St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London

Julian JacobsonPhotograph: www.julianjacobson.comThat Julian Jacobson is one of the finest living British pianists is known to many musicians and music-lovers, and it was encouraging to see a number of other pianists in the audience for this eve of Valentine’s Day recital, given in association with Drunken Dairy – “booze infused ice creams” and on sale during the interval.

The proximity to the day of all lovers provided a convenient tag on which to hang Jacobson’s programme, but there would appear to have been little in the way of musique d’amour in the pianist’s selection. No matter: the spectators had come to hear a fine musician in great music.

Beginning with Mozart’s K455 Variations, a set which ranges widely in terms of emotional expression (from dainty decoration to deeper profundities, before returning a smile to the listener’s face in the coda), Jacobson produced a well-nigh ideal account – full of character and outstanding musical phrasing. Schumann’s Fantasy followed almost immediately, and before many bars had been heard it was clear that Jacobson had the full measure of this masterpiece: this was an astonishingly fine account, rich in tonal variety and depth of perception, subtle and commanding by turns – another almost perfect performance that revealed the composer’s full genius.

The Russian second half opened with three relatively brief Scriabin pieces: well chosen for their diversity and (all things considered) emotional scope, before a remarkable account of Prokofiev’s still-problematic Sixth Piano Sonata – problematic for the pianist in melding the sudden changes, of mood and initially uncertain melodic outline, into a coherent whole. This work, the first of the trilogy that came to be known as the ‘War Sonatas’, is highly personal, more intense and inward-looking, and therefore presenting considerable interpretative decisions for a pianist who would undertake it. Jacobson was totally at one with this demanding masterwork, producing a reading that was fully coherent, wide-ranging, but never allowed to become diffuse. This programme was delivered by an outstanding artist. We should be so lucky.

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