Peter Jablonski Excels in American Piano Music and in Grieg

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Liszt, Grieg, Gershwin, Copland, Barber: Peter Jablonski (piano) Queen Elizabeth Hall 31.1.2012 (RB)

Liszt: Ballade No. 2 in B minor S171
Grieg: Ballade in G minor Op 24
Gershwin: Three piano preludes
Girl Crazy – Embraceable You
Copland: Four piano Blues – No. 4
Barber: Sonata Op 26

Peter Jablonski is now a familiar figure on the international concert platform and has a multi-award winning discography. Increasingly, he is becoming renowned for his performances of American piano music and has issued distinguished discs of Gershwin’s music.

As a belated nod to Liszt’s bi-centenary, he began his recital with a performance of Liszt’s second Ballade. Jablonski’s Liszt was the least successful part of this otherwise first rate recital. He began well, evoking a nice range of colours and sonorities from the keyboard with the rolling chromatic scales in the left hand; and there was some sensitive playing of Liszt’s lovely chord progressions. However, the subsequent martial passage needed to be more arresting and some of the virtuoso passage work was a little too manicured and slick and the music did not have the emotional volatility or flyaway quality that it needs.

Every so often one hears a work and you wonder why on earth you do not know it and why it is not performed more often. On this occasion the work in question was Grieg’s Ballade in G minor, which is a set of variations on a Norwegian folk song. It is Grieg’s largest scale piano work and was written around 1875, just as the composer was finishing the incidental music to Peer Gynt. Jablonski framed the plaintive opening melody beautifully and the left hand chromatics were highly expressive. The increasingly intricate piano textures and rhythms were handled brilliantly and the variation before the central ‘lento’ conveyed an army of trolls, elves and goblins, highly reminiscent of Peer Gynt. Jablonski gave the desolate central ‘lento’ variation a controlled, brooding quality and the phrasing in the subsequent highly embroidered variation was immaculate. He succeeded in working the subsequent variations up to a thrilling climax before the reprise of the opening theme.

The second half of the concert was devoted to American piano music and the performances got better and better. Gershwin’s preludes depict the world of New York’s Tin Pan Alley and incorporate jazz and blues influences. Jablonski’s playing of the first prelude in the set with its syncopations and blues theme was full of energy and infectious fun while the second was highly atmospheric with its melancholy blues lilt. The third prelude was another high energy piece with Jablonski giving it a high voltage performance. ‘Embraceable You’ – the love duet which Gershwin originally wrote for Ginger Rogers and Allen Kearns – was played here in Earl Wild’s virtuoso arrangement. Jablonski delineated exquisitely the graceful and delicate arabesques over the main melody. He then went straight into the Copland piano blues piece – written after the composer’s period of study with Nadia Boulanger – and showed excellent control of tone and colour.

The final piece was the Barber Piano Sonata which was originally premièred in 1950 by Horowitz. It is probably fortunate for Barber that Horowitz championed the work given its ferocious technical difficulties. The opening ‘allegro energico’ was played with gusto and Jablonski did a superb job with the rhythmic difficulties and textural layering. There were imaginative tonal contrasts and beautifully shaped phrasing, which gave the work shape and colour. Jablonki conveyed brilliantly the hallucinatory quality in the scherzo with some light and wispish playing while he brought out the dancing lilt of the trio. In the ‘adagio’ Jablonski again showed excellent tonal control and clarity of line and the build-up and subsequent release in intensity was perfectly calibrated. In the fugal finale, the voicing of the subject was highly inventive and voicing admirably clear. Jablonski did a brilliant job navigating his way through the dense fugal textures and the coda was full of excitement and brio.

For an encore, Jablonki treated the audience to a highly polished performance of Debussy’s Feux d’artifice, in which his playing was, once again, superb

Robert Beattie