United Kingdom Chopin, Brahms: Kasparas Uinskas (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 15.5.2012 (RB)
Chopin: Nocturne in C minor Op 48 No 1 (1841)
Sonata No 3 in B minor Op 58 (1844)
Brahms: Sonata No. 3 in F minor Op 5 (1853)
Kasparas Uinskas is a young Lithuanian pianist who has made a number of highly successful debuts on prestigious international stages. For this, his second recital at the Wigmore Hall, he elected to play two of the great masterpieces of the romantic repertoire.
He began his recital with the first of Chopin’s Op 48 Nocturnes, which has a tumultuous middle section famous for its stormy double octaves and chords. Uinskas gave a very polished and technically assured performance and he displayed a lovely singing tone as well as subtle and effective use of rubato. I missed some of the heartfelt angst in the work and the double octave build-up could have been even more devastating and explosive but it was a very accomplished performance.
Uinskas concluded the first half with Chopin’s great Piano Sonata in B minor. It has a traditional four movement format while containing highly expressive and original piano writing. It is one of the longest solo piano works written by the composer, and it is his last piano sonata, written in 1844 when Chopin was staying at George Sand’s country house in Nohant. The opening ‘allegro maestoso’ was dramatic and resolute and Uinskas brought an element of freewheeling fantasy to the performance with the agitato and sostenuto sections beautifully characterised. The development section was played in a flexible and intuitive way with Uinskas balancing poetry and drama throughout. Uinskas showed extraordinary digital dexterity in the scherzo although it was very fast indeed and I wondered if it might have been worth slowing it done a little to get a better tempo relationship with the ensuing trio.
Uinskas could have made more of the contrasts in the opening section of the gorgeous slow movement and the modulations did not quite have the sense of unfolding magic that they can convey. However, he displayed a lot of warmth and musical understanding in allowing the rest of the movement to unfold naturally and organically. There was breathtaking virtuosity in the galloping last movement and the coda was electrifying, although Uinskas could have brought out more of the stormy anguish that one hears in the best performances.
Uinskas has an affinity for Chopin but the high point of this recital for me was his performance of the Brahms F minor sonata. As with the Chopin, this gargantuan work is Brahms’ largest work for piano solo and it was to be his last piano sonata (although it is one of his earliest published works and it is likely that the composer performed it to Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853 when he visited their home in Dusseldorf). The fortissimo chords in the opening ‘allegro maestoso’ were powerful and thrilling with Uinskas making the most of the ‘sturm und drang’ elements of the work. He was able to sustain a compelling narrative through this long and complex movement and brought out the rich symphonic sonorities. The slow movement was even better, with Uinskas bestowing a serene, lyrical beauty to the opening section in A flat major, while the duple time exchanges between the hands in D flat major were played with a breathtaking sensitivity that was absolutely magical.
Uinskas gave the scherzo a spiky and angular performance while he brought out the emotional warmth in the rich harmonies of the trio. The funeral march intermezzo was played with immense clarity and Uinskas did a good job in building up and sustaining the tension of the movement. The finale had some lovely tonal and textural contrasts although occasionally I would have preferred the harmonies to be delineated a little more cleanly (although this is a moot point with Brahms). In the brilliant F major coda, Uinskas showed the audience his amazing digital dexterity again bringing this great work to a thrilling conclusion. It was gratifying to see such an accomplished and emotionally mature performance of this highly sophisticated work by such a young pianist.
Uinskas was warmly applauded by the Wigmore audience and played Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu as an encore. There was a slight memory lapse so Uinskas probably needs to think more about preparation of encores in future as he is likely to playing a lot of them if his performance of the Brahms is anything to go by!