‘Tis the season for “top 10” and “best of” the year lists (indeed, such is the popularity of these lists that it would appear that every music critic at The Guardian has issued their own Top 10 Concert/Operas of 2015).
Once again, I have enjoyed a busy year of concerts, reviewing 21 concerts in London for Bachtrack.com, plus various concerts at St John’s Smith Square, the 1901 Arts Club, St Mary’s Perivale and my local music society in Teddington.
“Hits” of 2015 include all five Prokofiev Piano Concertos in a single concert at the Proms, a musical marathon for the orchestra (LSO) and audience alike, with particularly fine performances by Daniil Trifonov and Arcadi Volodos. Other stand out Proms were Sibelius first and second symphonies, Thierry Escaich playing the Albert Hall organ, and Bernard Haitink conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Mozart’s Piano Concert K488, with Maria Joao Pires as soloist (an exquisitely measured and elegant performance), and Schubert’s ‘Great’ C Major Symphony, D944. My enjoyment of many of the Proms I attended this year was undoubtedly enhanced by my concert companions.
At the Wigmore, Garrick Ohlsson’s Skryabin Focus residency proved enlightening and insightful, with Ohlsson revealing himself as a sensitive and colouful interpreter of this curious, sensuous and often totally over the top music. This was definitely an opportunity to surrender oneself to the composer’s unique soundworld in the hands of a most capable and modest pianist.
Another revealing concert was given by Antonii Baryshevskyi, winner of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. He presented an engaging programme which made interesting links between Scarlatti and Ligeti, together with music by Chopin, Messiaen and Schumann which revealed Baryshevskyi to be a pianist at home with a wide variety of repertoire and styles.
Maria Joao Pires gave a delightfully intimate and atmospheric joint concert with one of her protegés, Pavel Kolesnikov, in music by Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann (both solo works and music for piano 4 hands).
One of the most eagerly anticipated concerts of 2015 – and not necessarily for all the right reasons – was Ivo Pogorelich’s “this is not a comeback” concert at the Festival Hall in February. It was a curious curate’s egg of an evening, with some very uneven, eccentric and clumsy playing combined with a blistering and masterful rendition of the Brahms Paganini Variations. The critics were universally damning, yet I felt rather sad that Pogorelich had been submitted to such vitriol. Whatever one may think about the quality of his playing, together with some very strange interaction with the page turner, it was undoubtedly an “interesting” concert, and somewhat refreshing to hear such personal piano playing as opposed to the “louder faster” school of pianism one encounters rather too often these days…..
Talking of which, against my better judgement I decided to hear Lang Lang at the Royal Albert Hall, and for me the first time I’d heard the Chinese poster boy pianist since 2002. There were flashes of insight and sensitivity, particularly in the slow movement of the Bach Italian Concerto, but the Chopin Scherzi were a vehicle for his trademark flashy, overblown virtuosity, the subtlety of Chopin’s writing lost in a whirlwind of noise and velocity. ‘The Seasons’ by Tchaikovsky was simply the wrong repertoire for the size of venue, but here there were also moments of beauty and hints of a more mature approach.
Which leads me to my “miss” of 2015, the much-lauded young Polish Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki who played much by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Liszt and Chopin’s Opus 25 Etudes at the Wigmore Hall in October. I had read much about Lisiecki, very fulsome and often gushing praise and I was curious to hear him live. Sadly, most of his concert was a display of youthful arrogance and immaturity which manifested itself in some very ugly and unsubtle playing. Jan is only 20 and he has plenty of time to develop as an artist – and I sincerely hope he does.
In addition, I’ve also enjoyed fine performances this year by Jeremy Denk, Murray Perahia, Stephen Hough (including the premiere of his new Piano Sonata), Marc-André Hamelin, Yevgeny Sudbin, François-Frédéric Guy, Peter Donohoe, Steven Osborne and Warren Mailley-Smith. 2016 seems set to begin on a high with concerts at the Wigmore by Pavel Kolesnikov, Steven Osborne, Piotr Anderszewski, Denis Kozukhin, and the continuation of Warren Mailley-Smith’s survey of Chopin’s complete piano music at St John’s Smith Square, a lovely venue for piano music. Further ahead in 2016, I am very much looking forward to Andras Schiff’s ‘Last Sonatas’ programmes at the Wigmore, exploring the final three sonatas of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, and Daniil Trifonov in June. There is much to enjoy in 2016 and I think my concert diary is likely to be as busy as it has been this year.
Link to all my Bachtrack reviews and articles
International Piano Series
St John’s Smith Square