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was withdrawn by the composer shortly before this recital began so we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.