Christian Zacharias in Recital at London’s Wigmore Hall

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  CPE Bach, Brahms, Beethoven:  Christian Zacharias (piano), Wigmore Hall, London. 31. 10. 2011 (RB)

CPE Bach: Sonata in A minor Wq. 57 No. 1
Rondo in C minor Wq. 59 No. 4
Brahms: 4 Klavierstücke Op 119
Beethoven: Piano sonata in A Flat Op 110
Brahms: Piano sonata in F minor Op 5

Thanks to the efforts of Danny Driver and now, Christian Zacharias, the music of CPE Bach is currently enjoying something of a revival.  His music is attractive and quirky and is characterised by sudden changes of mood and dynamics.

Zacharias opened his recital with Bach’s sonata in A minor which was published in 1781.  The opening ‘allegro’ with its abrupt silences and changes in harmony is a characteristic work.  Zacharias played it in a highly idiomatic way, using subtle phrasing and pedalling.  The short ‘andante’ slow movement uses expressive chromatic harmonies and Zacharias played it with restrained lyricism.  Zacharias dealt well with the rhythmic subtlety and complexity in the final ‘allegro di molto’, and displayed deft and crisp articulation.  The sonata was followed by Bach’s rondo in C minor, which is another highly unusual work.  Again there are sudden changes of mood and harmony and the work ends mid-stream without a final resolution.  Zacharias gave a highly polished and accomplished account.  It is good to see an artist of this calibre presenting these largely forgotten works to a wider audience.

Zacharias moved from CPE to Brahms giving an account of the four Klavierstücke Op 119.  They are the last piano pieces Brahms wrote and they have a lyrical, autumnal feel.  Zacharias gave a reasonably convincing account of these poetic masterpieces but I had some reservations with this performance.  The opening B minor intermezzo was elegantly phrased but I thought Zacharias could have used a greater range of tone colour and sonority.  The delightful C major intermezzo could have been lighter and crisper while I felt the opening chords of the final rhapsodie in E flat major needed to be more incisive and to have greater resolution.

Zacharias moved from late Brahms to late Beethoven with the sonata in A flat major, Beethoven’s penultimate piano sonata.  The opening ‘allegro’ was expressive and graceful and Zacharias’ phrasing was exquisite.  The second movement scherzo was nicely judged and the awkward right hand passagework well executed.  The final movement is a profound and highly original work consisting of a series of adagio and fugal episodes.  I thought Zacharias gave a mixed and not entirely convincing account of this seminal movement.  The tone in the adagio sections was crystalline, the melody deftly shaped and the opening fugue well voiced.  However, the recitative section seemed a little perfunctory while the final inversion of the fugue at the end of the movement did not convey that profound swelling of joy that one hears in the greatest performance of this sonata.

The highlight of the concert for me was Zacharias’ performance of the Brahms F minor sonata.  In the opening ‘allegro’ he captured the full range of orchestral sonorities and textures and the emotional range and depth of the work.  His performance of the ‘andante’ slow movement was really quite extraordinary.  Zacharias adopted a nicely flowing tempo and managed to find the sublime poetry at the emotional core of this most glorious of slow movements.  The sense of cohesion, the elasticity of phrasing and the sustaining of the long lyrical lines were all exemplary.  The angular scherzo had power and energy while the trio section was sensitive, reflective and soulful.  In the fourth movement intermezzo, Zacharias summoned dark colours from the piano for the funeral march motif before embarking on the finale.  He captured the grand sweep of this final rondo characterising the succession of themes quite beautifully.  Altogether, this was a really magnificent account of this towering work.

The response from the audience was highly enthusiastic and they were rewarded with Schumann’s Arabeske as an encore.

Robert Beattie