S&H Concert review

Ravel, Bartók, Debussy: Krystian Zimerman (piano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi. RFH, October 11th, 2001. (CC)

This was a carefully programmed concert which left a deep impression. The last time I heard Krystian Zimerman in recital it was a disappointing experience, so it was all the more impressive that his performance of Bartók's First Piano Concerto came across with a refreshing sense of discovery. It was quite surprising to find Zimerman using a score (despite the complexities of this music), but if you closed your eyes there was no sense whatsoever of any reliance on the printed page: the technical difficulties (and there are many) were dismissed, so that one could concentrate on the Bartókian sound-world. The second movement, in particular, was magical: the sense of concentration was almost palpable in this Night Music. The brash, raw sonorities of the first movement were unashamedly presented by the orchestra, who seemed to relish the challenge. The First Piano Concerto demands and deserves more attention. We should be grateful that an artist of the stature of Zimerman is willing to take on the cause. The Bartók acted as an acerbic foil to the pastel shades of the French Impressionism of the remainder of the concert, and the balance worked well.

If there were hints of scrappiness in the first piece, the 'Mother Goose' Suite, they all but disappeared in the sensuous, evocative performance of Debussy’s ‘La Mer’. Järvi's pacing was impeccable and he extracted moments of the utmost beauty from the Philharmonia Orchestra. This was aural painting of the first order: the second movement, ‘Jeux de vagues’ was a shimmering sound-image, and climaxes throughout were unapologetically grand: this sea was of the most impressive order. The ‘Pavane’ which preceded it was the epitome of flowing grace.

I was substantially more impressed by Paavo Järvi's conducting live than on disc: the all-Berlioz disc on Telarc with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (he becomes their Music Director this autumn) is lacklustre, a criticism I would not readily apply to this concert.

Colin Clarke


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