The last time I heard Peter
Jablonski, I was not impressed. He has earned himself a place as
part of the prestigious ‘International Piano Series’, however, and therefore
is set to be judged against the like of Mitsuoko
Uchida's memorable recital of last week, which lingered fresh in
This recital was part of the ‘Prokofiev and Shostakovich
under Stalin’ Festival, which gave it an, in my experience, unique angle:
two full sets of programme notes for the same recital, by two different
authors (one in the Festival brochure by David Nice, the other in the
Piano Series Spring Season brochure by Nick Breckenfield). Luckily,
they complemented each other. Plus, there was Jablonski’s own introduction
in the Piano Series programme and, to round it all off, an excellent
pre-concert talk by Gerard McBurney on Prokofiev the pianist. No pressure
on Jablonski to deliver, then.
Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, Op. 37b of
1875/6 (actually a set of twelve pieces, one for each month) needs more
frequent airing, and excerpting from them is a sensible way to do this.
Whilst Jablonski was not as literal as Irakly
Avaliani on Pavane (ADW7272), he began September’s ‘Hunting
Song’ with a hardened tone. This may have been a bold and annunciatory
beginning, but it was also over-pedalled and with a hard edge to it.
October’s ‘Autumn Song’ is characterised by a longing melancholy
(it would make a marvellous encore piece), giving the impression of
a quasi-improvised, highly personal world: a pity Jablonski insisted
on over-projecting inner voices for the sake of it. December
(‘Christmas’), a Chopin Waltz seen through a Tchaikovskian filter, had
a certain amount of warmth but was missing the other part of the equation
– tenderness. Interesting that, whatever the technical demands of the
rest of the music on the programme, it was these three unprepossessing
miniatures which showed Jablonski’s weaknesses clearly. Thcaikovsky’s
The Seasons requires an interpreter who is in no doubt of its
worth: Jablonski is not this person.
He seemed happier in Rachmaninov’s eight Etudes-tableaux,
Op. 33 (1911). David Nice’s assertion in the (Festival) programme that
‘these are Rachmaninov’s fugitive visions’ may seem like a strained
link to the Prokofiev thread of the umbrella event, but it is certainly
true that Rachmaninov is frequently at his best in short, concise statements.
Jablonski was alive to the dreamy contrasts of the first piece (F minor),
and seemed intent to see the second (C major) as a direct counterpart
to the famous G sharp minor Prelude, Op. 32 No. 12. He also managed
to avoid schmalz (no mean feat in some cases) and brought off the impassioned
minor-mode Rachmaninov of No. 8 in C sharp minor with gusto.
The second half balanced the first directly by also
starting off with Jablonski’s own selection of pieces from a collection,
but this time it was from Prokofiev’s Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet,
Op. 75 (1937). Jablonski opted for No. 2 (Scene: The Street Awakens);
No. 7 (Friar Lawrence) and No. 8 (Mercutio). The spiky The Street
Awakens was characterised by forced agogics, while Friar Lawrence
needed to invoke more lumbering, gentle humour: only in Mercutio
did Jablonski seem happier (presumably because it was an opportunity
to show off his technique). Prokofiev’s Eighth Piano Sonata (1939-44)
could hardly be of more different mettle. It was premièred by
Gilels; Sviatoslav Richter also entered the world of its secrets. August
company, and Jablonski’s name really cannot be mentioned in the same
breath. It is a mammoth interpretative undertaking for any pianist.
This Sonata definitely does not yield its secrets easily.
Jablonski occasionally seemed to want to link it to
the Romeo and Juliet pieces rather than plumb its depths. The
first movement, tiring for both performer and listener in terms of sheer
stamina, is driven by its own remarkable logic, one which seemed to
escape Jablonski who seemed happiest in the more convoluted passages
(more notes to play?). Listeners should feel as if they are being guided,
inexplicably but surely, through an enormous labyrinth: here the pianist
was the one who was lost. The return of the opening had little or no
sense of magic, and the end of the movement as a whole said it all:
Jablonski just raised his hands away from the keyboard in the most perfunctory
and superficial manner. Maybe he realised he had failed to mesmerise
The Andante sognando (dreamy) was bereft of its bitter-sweet
quality because Jablonski was trying too hard to be expressive and ended
up being simply too interventionist. For the final Vivace, Jablonski
missed the dark, sombre undercurrent. There was some fudging in the
most taxing passages, and what excitement there was towards the end
was too little, too late.
I only stayed for the first encore, which seemed to
sum the entire recital up to a tee: Debussy’s Feux d’artifice
(‘Fireworks’, from Préludes, Book 2), as shallow and insubstantial
an interpretation as one is likely ever to hear, flashy with no depth
whatsoever. The Marseillaise quote, which should be shrouded
in clouds of mystery, sank like a damp squib, weighed down by its own
sense of inconsequence, functioning perfectly as a metaphor for much
of this recital.