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Seen and Heard Recital Review

Mozart, Ravel, Chopin Krystian Zimerman (piano), Royal Festival Hall, 9 June, 2005 (CC)

Although Krystian Zimerman is almost a legend in his own lifetime, I must confess I had not been knocked out by him on previous occasions. Now, however, I see what the fuss is about.

On paper, Mozart's Sonata K330 at the outset seemed to be a token opener, something to welcome us in before the main meat arrived. But things were not predictable here. Despite Zimerman beginning almost immediately (no wait for the audience to settle), this was translucently-textured Mozart of the highest order. The playing was reminiscent of Uchida at times, but with more interpretative substance to it. Expertly deft decorations were impressive, but perhaps it was the more vocally-inspired slow movement that impressed most. Zimerman brought a richness even to two-voiced textures while making the piano sing wonderfully. Interesting also to observe his mannerism of a 'circling' left hand when the right plays alone. The perhaps surprisingly cheeky finale, with its superb articulation, was a delight.

The clear textures of the Mozart were mirrored in Zimerman's Ravel (the Valses nobles et sentimentales). The opening was played with real abandon, the dissonances simply delicious There was a real sense of rightness about all eight Valses, making them the perfect partner for Chopin's Fourth Ballade (the rest of the programme comprised only Chopin). Believe it or not, though, latecomers (at this stage!) were allowed in while Zimerman was playing, providing a huge distraction. A shame, as Zimerman conjured up a dreamy sense of nostalgia. He has the ability to make one hang on a note, forcing the assembled audience to take a collective breath. It is almost as if Zimerman is as enamored with the space between notes than he is with the notes themselves. More, his impeccable technique is simply never used for show (and there must be great temptation in music such as this).

The Op. 24 Mazurkas (a set of four) opened the second part of the recital. Great care was given to the first (G minor). It simultaneously seemed improvised yet was sculpted with great attention to detail. Zimerman liked to emphasize Chopin's searching aspect in these works, giving them tremendous integrity as well as fluidity. (And ignoring the watch alarm to perfection.) Chopin's Second Sonata has been popular of late, with both Grimaud and Pollini providing their very different interpretations. And superb though Pollini was, it was Zimerman who supplied the most complete reading. Imbuing the opening octaves with real biting edge and thereafter adding an elemental right hand, this was a strictly 'no sentimentalizing' zone. The development section continued the theme of bleakness (weird though I am aware it may sound, I 'heard' it in dark purple). There seemed to be a moment (brief) of Zimerman forcing the tone at one point and I simply cannot make my mind up whether it was purposeful or not...

There was no trace of awkwardness to the Scherzo (never mind the Funeral March, it is this fast Scherzo that is the burial ground for many – nay, almost all – pianists). In keeping perhaps with Zimerman's bleak outlook on this sonata, the conciliatory nature of the Trio was played down. The Funeral March itself was a huge edifice, weighty and every inch its name. This featured true consolation, as well as absolutely huge fortissimi. Straight in to the famous finale, as technically excellent as Pollini, but even more unsettling. A masterpiece of a recital.

Colin Clarke

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