Reinis Zarins Impresses at Wigmore Hall

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart, Debussy, Stravinsky, Bloch, Schumann:   Reinis Zarins (piano) Wigmore Hall, London 21.11.2012 (RB)

Mozart:  Fantasia in C minor K 475
Debussy:  Three Preludes
Stravinsky:  Three Movements from Petrushka
BlochFour Circus Pieces (1922)
Schumann:  Fantasie in C major Op 17

Reinis Zarins is a young, London-based Latvian pianist who is beginning to establish a considerable international reputation as a recitalist, chamber musician and soloist.  He has collaborated on a number of occasions with Boulez and Ensemble Intercontemporain so he has a keen interest in the contemporary piano repertoire.  He has an absolutely dazzling technique and it was fully on display for this recital, which covered an amazing array of musical styles and genres.

He opened the recital with Mozart’s C minor Fantasia, which was composed in Vienna in 1785 and was originally published as a preface to the C minor sonata K457.  Zarins captured well the free improvisatory feel of the piece while at the same time displaying some elegant classical phrasing.  The transition into D major was played with real warmth and charm with Zarins coaxing some lovely colours from the piano.  Zarins responded flexibly and spontaneously to the profusion of freewheeling musical ideas that runs through the piece and succeeded in developing the material in an organic and holistic way.

The playing seemed to go up a gear with the three Debussy preludes.  The opening of ‘La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin’ was simple and unaffected and Zarins captured some subtle and evocative half lights, particularly towards the end.  ‘Feux d’Artifice’ was a tour de force, full of imaginative textures and sonorities, with the technical difficulties handled with infinite ease.  Zarins deployed a soft-grained, velvety tone for ‘La Cathedral Engloutie’ and succeeded in producing some gorgeous tone painting.

The first half of the concert concluded with Stravinsky’s ‘Three Dances from Petrushka’ which the composer wrote for Rubinstein in 1921.  While Debussy was keen to turn the piano into an instrument without hammers, Stravinsky was heading in the opposite direction, exploring the percussive possibilities of the instrument.  The opening ‘Russian Dance’ was very good indeed with Zarins keeping the dense piano textures light and deploying an impressive range of textures and dynamics.  The rhythms were nicely pointed and he used the full resources of the concert grand to bring out the full range of orchestral sonorities and the balletic nature of the score.  The second movement ‘In Petruska’s Cell’ was vividly characterised with Zarins relishing the wild dramatic elements and depicting beautifully the puppet’s self-pity.  The superhuman difficulties of the piece appeared almost incidental with Zarins focusing on creating a collection of vivid musical effects.  In ‘The Shrovetide Fair’ Zarins was acutely responsive to the shifting scenes and rapidly changing rhythms and dealt with the treacherous technical difficulties with almost ridiculous ease.  He has committed this piece to disc and if the recording is anything like this live performance it would be worth getting it for that alone.

Bloch’s Four Circus Pieces were written in 1922, the year after the Petrushka dances, and are witty depictions of various circus acts.  It opens with ‘The Two Burlington Brothers’, which is essentially an act made up of two old fashioned eccentrics.  Zarins was rhythmically incisive and brought out the sense of parody, poking fun through the various oom-pahs in the piece.  ‘The Clown’ is dedicated to Charlie Chaplin and focuses on the sadness beneath the comic exterior.  Some nicely judged layering by Zarins made the point beautifully.  ‘The Homeliest Woman’ is a caricature of a Chopin waltz which Zarins delivered as a vaudeville sketch.  The final ‘Dialogue and Dance of the Heavyweight and the Dwarf’ was dispatched with wit and brio.

The concert concluded with Schumann’s great C major Fantasie.  Zarins brilliantly captured the romantic ardour of the opening movement, the mercurial mood swings and flights of fancy.  There was some lovely lyrical and tender playing in some of the quieter moments.  The start of the second movement sounded a little jaded but Zarins soon got into his stride, navigating his way through the dotted and cross rhythms.  The famous leaps in the coda were played at breakneck speed in an impressive technical display but I would have preferred a slightly more restrained approach.  The slow movement was for me the highlight of the entire concert and it was breathtakingly beautiful.  Zarins succeeded in sustaining the long expressive lines in a way which really drew the audience in and produced some rich, dreamy sounds.  Absolutely gorgeous playing.

Zarins played three encores:  some evocative Debussy, a slow waltz by Prokofiev and Liszt’s fearsomely difficult eighth transcendental study, ‘Wilde Jagd’.  This latter was an exciting and exuberant end to an evening of superb music making.

Robert Beattie