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S & H Recital Review

Bach, Kurtág, Brahms; Tabea Zimmermann (viola), Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano), Wigmore Hall, 3rd March 2003 (MB)

One of the many glories of the Wigmore Hall is its Monday lunchtime recital. This one – featuring two of the most sublime young musicians around today – promised much and delivered music making of the highest standard.

The viola, a Cinderella among string instruments, isn’t exactly heavily written for; indeed, two of the pieces in this recital were originally written for other instruments – the Bach G minor for the viola da gamba (or Bass Viol) and the Brahms E flat for the clarinet. The Bach played here is perhaps better suited to its usual ‘cello transcription and the reason for this became evident in Aimard’s dominant piano accompaniment which, especially in the first movement, threatened to drown out the viola. Aimard’s Bach playing is not particularly idiomatic – indeed, he has a tendency to deny the piano much sense of tone colour and throughout he produced a dry, rather recessed sound. In contrast, Ms Zimmermann was warm-toned and characterful.

Kurtág’s In memoriam Tamàs Blum was withdrawn by the composer shortly before this recital began so we had to make do with four very short pieces for viola from Signs, Games and Messages (1989-98) and three short pieces for piano from Jàtèkok (from 1995). Uniting all of these pieces is a particularly Kurtágian sound-world of deep, spacious sonorities of almost opaque textures. Doloroso for solo viola, for example, has almost no conformity of rhythm – and yet, between the fragments, has an ambidexterity of music and silence juxtaposed. Bow strokes are constantly broken up – and rarely does the composer encourage his soloist to use the bow’s entire length. In memoriam Andràs Mihály for solo piano is almost identical – starting out with chiming, bell-like chords, fragments of a larger whole repeated constantly. Both Zimmermann, playing with a full-rounded wide tone, and Aimard, playing with a surprisingly large dynamic range (given the brevity of the pieces) gave definitive performances of the works.

Concluding the recital was Brahms’ E flat major sonata, one of the cornerstones of the viola/piano repertoire. The performance was magisterial – subtle, musing, lyrical and, in the middle-movement Scherzo, powerful. Again, it was Zimmermann’s expressive playing which dominated (against Aimard’s plangency of tone) although both soloists in the passionate second movement displayed an incandescent beauty of phrasing. Perhaps Zimmermann’s vibrato is a little on the broad side – as if compensating for the piano’s dominance – but there is no doubting her feeling for both her instrument and the music.

All-in-all, an enjoyable recital of some rare repertoire – and by a partnership we will surely hear more of.

Marc Bridle



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