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Mozart, Holliger, Schulhoff, Mussorgsky: Louis Schwizgebel–Wang (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 22.9.2008 (BBr)


Mozart: Piano Sonata in D, K311 (1777)
Heinz Holliger: Elis, Drei Nachtstücke (1961 rev 1966)
Erwin Schulhoff: Cing études de jazz (1926)
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)

I’m really a very lucky man. I get to attend concerts and share my enthusiasms, or otherwise, with you afterwards, reporting on the music making. Once in a while, along comes a concert which is of such especial note that I am left gasping for breath and in awe and admiration at what I have been privileged to hear. Tonight was just such a show.

Louis Schwizgebel–Wang is a 21 year year old Swiss–Chinese pianist who has intelligence, insight and a technique which allows him to put himself fully at the service of the composer and present the music without overtly impressing himself between composer and listener.

This was a well thought out and very varied programme which showed him at his very best in music from three centuries. Placing the piano at far stage left made Schwizgebel–Wang physically take centre stage, and gave the best piano sound I have heard all year in the Wigmore Hall. The delightful Mozart Sonata which opened the show was played with great good humour, Schwizgebel–Wang giving the piece a very light touch and making the modern concert grand sound much more like a classical instrument than I would have thought possible. He never attacked the keyboard, keeping the feel light and restrained. Never once was I conscious of an inflation of the music into a small scale romantic work. His approach was truly classical throughout, and his incredibly subtle use of rubato was quite miraculous.

Holliger’s Elis is a very different kettle of fish. These three miniature Nocturnes were over almost before they began but they inhabited a large space. The outer pieces were beautiful night scenes, gentle and elegiac, and were counterpointed by a violent middle section. Using the full range of the keyboard, and incorporating some playing directly on the strings of the instrument (which, even after all these years, was a cause of merriment to some members of the audience) Holliger has created a superb triptych, not difficult in language, no matter what many members of the audience might have thought, and Schwizgebel–Wang gave it his all in an almost classical interpretation to match the Mozart. It was a fine exposition of music which, forty years after its composition, proved that it could still unsettle an audience.

Schulhoff’s Jazz
études are not real jazz, rather a filtering of jazz through the composer’s own camera obscura; the tango, for instance, was much more a dream of a tango than a real tango. The five pieces are fun and, despite having a slight reminiscence to Gershwin’s Preludes, inhabit a world of their own. After the toughness of the Holliger the full house responded well and went into the interval, with its free glass of Mauler Swiss wine, well satisfied.

The second half consisted of one work – Mussorgsky’s magnificent Pictures at an Exhibition. Within a couple of bars it was obvious that Schwizgebel–Wang’s performance was going to be singular. The controlled opening Promenade gave way to a truly malevolent Gnomus. The Old Castle was brilliantly controlled, the texture growing over the incessant G sharp in the bass. Bydlo was a lesson in how to build tension over a long time span and although the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks was taken at breakneck speed, which never faltered, every note was clearly articulated. There was so much to admire and enjoy in this performance – the insane length of the fermata in Catacombs, for instance, and the hell–for–leather Baba Yaga. Schwizgebel–Wang crowned his performance with a resounding Great Gate of Kiev. At the end it was impossible to remain seated and the audience rose to applaud the young man – pianism of this high calibre really deserves nothing less.

Bob Briggs

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