(photo: Marco Borggreve)

I first heard French pianist Alexandre Tharaud at the Wigmore Hall in October 2013, and his performance of Bach, Schubert and Chopin left me somewhat underwhelmed.

In his concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the International Piano Series, he left me wanting more….

How clever of Alexandre Tharaud to open his QEH concert with Schubert’s Moments musicaux, salon pieces which combine charm and tenderness with an unsettling edginess to create Schubert’s emotional and musical landscape in microcosm. From the opening notes of the first of the suite, Tharaud imbued the music with intimacy and set the tone for the whole evening, even in the more extrovert sentences of Ravel’s “Alborada del gracioso” from Miroirs. This was piano playing which encouraged concentrated listening.

Read my full review here

© Dario Acosta Photography / DG

He looks like he should still be at school, yet he plays with the commanding presence, exceptional technical facility and deep commitment a professional artist thrice his years would envy. He’s slight, floppy haired, yet he can bring power and richness to the boldest fortissimo passages, while his pianissimos are delicate whispers. Welcome to the world of Daniil Trifonov.

Superlatives quickly become redundant when attempting to describe the pianistic feats of this young artist, winner in 2011 of both the Tchaikovsky and Rubenstein Competitions, and still only 23. He’s already got a clutch of recordings under his belt, and is in demand around the world. His London concert marked his Royal Festival Hall debut (he has already played at the Wigmore and Queen Elizabeth Halls), and it was therefore a pity that due to an unfortunate, and probably accidental, concert clash with Behzod Abduraimov’s Wigmore Hall recital, the Festival Hall was not as full-to-bursting as it might have been for this eagerly-anticipated debut.

Read my full review here

Maurizio Pollini (© Cosimo Filippini)
Maurizio Pollini (© Cosimo Filippini)

How does one define “greatness” in a pianist? Is it the willingness to tackle a broad sweep of repertoire from Baroque to present-day? Profound musicality and penetrating insights, founded on pristine technique? A fearless approach to risk-taking in live concerts? Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini is the sum of these parts – and much more – as his recent concerts in London have demonstrated. Here is an artist who is equally at home in the elegance of Bach, the intimacy of Chopin’s miniatures and the spiky modernism of Pierre Boulez, always bringing supreme pianism and fresh insights to his performances.

For his second International Piano Series concert at a packed Royal Festival Hall, Pollini trod a more traditional path in an all-Beethoven programme. Traditional, but also ambitious: to perform three of the most well-known, revered and technically demanding of Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas would be a challenge for any artist. For a man of seventy-two (and he looks older and frailer) this was a monumental programme, which scaled the highest Himalayan peaks of pianism…..

Read my full review here http://bachtrack.com/review-maurizio-pollini-beethoven-apr-2014

(photo credit: David Crookes)

In a welcome return to London after several years’ absence, acclaimed Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky opened the 2014 International Piano Series concerts at Southbank Centre with an impressive and absorbing recital of music by two of the finest composers of preludes for the piano, Debussy and Rachmaninov, interspersed with Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata. Opening his concert with two pieces by Debussy not included in the printed programme, rather in the manner of a nineteenth-century virtuoso, he closed with an imposing and well-judged account of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata, demonstrating an appreciation of both the scope of the music and the vastness of the country of its origin. This was an evening of pure pianism, delivered without flashy gimmicks or unnecessary gestures, just honest, committed playing of the highest order.

Read my full review here

The International Piano Series continues at the Southbank Centre

(photo credit: Felix Broede)

Igor Levit’s star is rising fast: a BBC New Generation Artist, an exclusive recording deal with Sony Classics, and a debut CD of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas have already brought this 26-year-old pianist attention and acclaim, and on Tuesday evening he opened the 2013/14 International Piano Series at London’s Southbank Centre with a performance of Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas to a full house.

Read my full review here

I purchased my ticket to hear Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski almost a year ago, to avoid disappointment: he is a pianist I’ve long wanted to hear live, in particular after seeing ‘Unquiet Traveller’, the wonderful and quirky film about him by Bruno Monsaingeon. In it, Anderszewski revealed himself to be a sensitive, thoughtful and original musician, and his comments about the need to “sing to Mozart” struck a special chord (forgive the pun!) with me as I was, at the time of seeing the film, involved the final work on Mozart’s Rondo in A minor K511 for my diploma, a work full of arias and operatic statements, with an opening melody that looks forward to Chopin at his most intimate.

Anderszewski is a famously perfectionist musician (he walked off the stage during the semi-finals of the Leeds Piano Competition in 1990 because he wasn’t happy with his playing) and is one of the few musicians I’ve encountered in interview to talk openly about performance anxiety and the loneliness of the concert pianist (more here). But there was no sense of a precious personality at work when he strode onto the stage at Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday night, to a full house, and launched into a sprightly and colourful ‘Allemande’ of Bach’s French Suite No. 5, its melody streaming forth. Bach’s French Suites are more intimate than the English Suites, and Anderszewski offered a persuasive and thoughtful account, particularly in the exquisitely measured Sarabande and the stately Loure. The faster movements were dancing, witty and playful.

Despite being called English Suites, there is nothing especially English about them: they are essentially French in the dances featured in them, and are ‘player’s music’ rather than concert pieces. Anderszewski brought the grandiose opening ‘Prelude’ to life with a strong sense of the orchestral textures and fugal elements, and the following movements were elegantly presented. It was in the ‘Sarabande’, a movement which fully exploits the dark hues and gravity of G minor, that Anderszewski’s exquisite control, sensitivity and beauty of sound really came to the fore. He is also unafraid of exploiting the possibilities of the modern piano to the full, including the use of the pedal to create rich, warm sounds and shimmering pools of colour, and to highlight the melodic aspects of the movements. A marked contrast to the rather more mannered, traditional interpretations of Bach’s keyboard music.

After the interval, the less well-known Book 2 of Janacek’s On An Overgrown Path, a suite in five movements written at a time when the composer was coming to terms with the untimely death of his daughter Olga. These intensely introspective movements are emotionally searing and highly personal, imbued with references to Moravian folk music and harmonic fragments akin to Debussy’s soundworld.

It was in these pieces that Anderszewski’s ability to move from the most delicately nuanced pianissimos to rich, full fortes was most evident, and the subtleties and shifting moods of these poignant works were highlighted with great sensitivity and insight.

If we were wondering whether Anderszewski could also offer passion and sweeping virtuosity, without compromising his beautiful quality of sound, we were left in no doubt after his performance of Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major, Op 17, a work the composer described as “a profound lament” for his wife, Clara. It was a grandiose, declamatory and heartfelt close to a superb evening of piano playing of the highest order.

After several curtain calls, Anderszewski returned the piano and announced he would play the French Suite again. The audience laughed, a little uncertainly, perhaps not sure that he meant this, but by the time he reached the Sarabande, it was quite obvious he intended to complete the entire suite. It is rare to be given such a generous encore: indeed, I could have happily listened to Piotr Anderszewski playing Bach all night, such was the allure of his sound, understanding and musical sensitivity.

Piotr Anderszewki – Unquiet Traveller. More about the film by Bruno Monsaingeon here