An Enthralling London Debut Recital by Vikingur Ólafsson

17/11/2017

Bach, Chopin, Brahms: Vikingur Ólafsson (piano), St John’s, Smith Square, London, 15.11.2017. (CC)

Bach – Partita No.6 in E minor BWV830
Chopin – Études: Nouvelle Étude No.1 Op. posth; Op.25/2; Op.10/9. Ballade No.4 in F minor Op.52
Brahms – Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor Op.5

Amazingly, this was Icelandic pianist Vikingur Ólasson’s first recital in London. His rise in the public consciousness has been rapid: he signed for the Yellow Label, DG, almost exactly a year ago. Already, though, his debut recording of music by Philip Glass, a composer with whom he is closely associated, has created quite some waves (review). The pre-concert talk was illuminating, Ólafsson revealing himself to be amiable, modest and of questing spirit. He is synaesthetic (he hears in colours), is director of two festivals (Reykjavik Midsummer and Sweden’s Vinterfest, having taken over from Martin Fröst) and he studied at the Juilliard School with Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald.

There was no Glass this time but instead a cunningly plotted evening, mainly in F minor. The exception was Bach’s Sixth Partita, a semitone out in E minor. This is a grand, seven-movement work whose rigour clearly appealed to Ólafsson (the prevailing impression of the pre-concert talk had been one of high intelligence). Embracing the modern piano as just that, Ólafsson found myriad colour and expression, from the fluidity of the Allemande to the organ-like sonorities of the opening Toccata or the terrific finger-evenness of the Corrente. The angular theme of the concluding Gigue hopped about like a flea; at times in this movement, too, Ólafsson seemed to aim to invoke the pealing of bells.

Even finer was Ólafsson’s Chopin. A quartet of F minor pieces began with the first Nouvelle Étude (1839), a terrific marriage of study with imagination, followed by the F minor offerings from Opp. 25 and 10 respectively, the former nimble, the second its polar opposite, the line almost but not quite over-emphasised. Finally for the first half, the more extended Fourth Ballade (1842/3). Ólafsson’s relatively low-pedal approach to Chopin works wonders in elucidating key textures and voice-leading; the whole was expertly shaped.

Post-interval, it was Brahms’ mighty F minor Sonata of 1853, and Ólafsson’s actual piano sound changed completely – and appositely – the bass burnished and full. And yet the clarity of line that had been constant in the Bach and the Chopin was present here, too, with every strand impeccably defined. The central trio of movements (Andante espressivoScherzoIntermezzo (Rückblick)) were perfectly conveyed, the central Scherzo a study in wild abandon. With daringly sparing pedal, Ólafsson seemed to seek to make parallels with Schumann’s Carnaval here before entering into the barren world of the Intermezzo. The finale, again characterised by supremely intelligent playing, crowned a fine performance of this magnificent work.

There were two encores, Rameau’s intriguing Le rappel des oiseaux – a piece in E minor, hearkening back to the first piece of the programme); interestingly, emil Gilels recorded this piece. We also heard a lachrymose Chopin Mazurka Op.63/2, one of the composer’s last pieces, perhaps unsurprisingly in F minor.

In that pre-concert event, Ólafsson referred to his next DG recording, due in 2018, of Bach’s reworkings of Vivaldi and Marcello and a world premiere of Ólafsson’s own transcription of a Bach Cantata. Consider my appetite, at least, thoroughly whetted.

Colin Clarke

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Sundays for a Fiver Festival in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre Reopens in December 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The Future of Opera is Theatre: An Essay by Casey Creel __________________________________
  • NEW! Jacqui and David Morris’s New Documentary Film Nureyev Celebrates a Unique Man and Dancer __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month