Another Fine Recital from Piotr Anderszewski

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Janáček, Schumann: Piotr Anderszewski (piano), Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 23.5.2013 (RB)

Bach: French Suite No. 5 in G major, BWV 816
Bach: English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808
Janáček: – On an Overgrown Path – Book Two
Schumann: Fantasie in C major, Op 17

Piotr Anderszewski has produced a number of award-winning discs in recent years which have focused on the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. He has recorded both the Bach suites from the first half of this recital so he was on very familiar territory. There seemed to be some initial confusion around the running order of the programme – an official announced that the first half would conclude with the Schumann Fantasie and the second half with the Bach English Suite. However, Anderszewski changed his mind and decided simply to switch the order of the first two works on the programme and to kick off with the French Suite.

Anderszewski is rightly acclaimed for his Bach and he uses the full resources of the concert grand to bring out the distinctive character of each of the dances. The opening Allemande of the French Suite was enchanting and I was struck by the variety and inventiveness of the ornamentation. The Sarabande seemed to glide by in a mellifluous way with Anderszewski giving us some highly exquisite ornamentation, while the Gavotte was full of chatter and bustle. The Bourrée was delivered with buoyancy and lightness of touch while the final Gigue had a sparkling effervescent quality, providing an exuberant finale to the suite. This was highly imaginative playing which was very well received by the audience – so much so that Anderszewski decided to play the whole thing again at the end of the recital as an encore!

The English Suites are on a much grander scale than the French suites and were probably written during Bach’s Weimar period. The contrapuntal lines in the opening Prelude were admirably clear and the sequences were highly inventive with Anderszewski deploying a wide range of touch, tone colour and articulation. The Allemande had a luminous quality and here Anderszewski brought out the lyricism of the music and used subtle tonal and dynamic variation to underscore the expressive qualities of the piece. The Courante had a nervy restless urgency while the Sarabande, starting in epic regal fashion, developed into an introspective meditation of extraordinary intensity – something with this pianist does very well. There were some dramatic changes in tone colour and dynamics in the two Gavottes while the final Gigue was delivered with conviction with Anderszewski lending tonal weight to the contrapuntal lines and bringing out the turbulent and dramatic qualities of the piece. Overall, this was superlative Bach playing.

The second half of the concert opened with Book Two of Janáček’s ‘On an Overgrown Path’ which was written between 1908 and 1911. It comprises five rather pained and understated poetic miniatures which clearly show the influences of Moravian folk music. Anderszewski played the opening ‘Andante’ in a very direct and affecting way and the gentle melancholy of the piece really seemed to insinuate itself and get beneath the skin. The ‘Allegretto’ received a restrained and reflective performance with Anderszewski alive to the rhythmic subtlety of the piece. The ‘Più mosso’ was played with robust energy and rhythmic vitality while the ‘Vivo’ had a caustic and biting quality. The final piece in the set is a more extended number which was given an upbeat performance with Anderszewski making the most of the folk elements and really letting the piano sing.

The final work on the programme was Schumann’s great C major ‘Fantasie’ which was written at a time when the composer was separated from his beloved Clara. It was intended as a commemoration to the work of Beethoven. (Schumann wished to donate the proceeds of publication towards the costs of erecting a Beethoven monument in Bonn). Anderszewski brought out the freewheeling fantastical elements and mercurial shifts in mood quite brilliantly in the opening movement. He moved seamlessly from high romantic passion to wistful yearning and to playful insouciance. The second movement is a virtuosic march and it is the only part of the recital with which I had problems. The opening seemed a little too coy and, while the movement was rhythmically tight, some of the playing was a little tentative. In the central section there were too many inaccuracies and at one point Anderszewski seemed almost to come off the rails. However, he recovered well and the final leaps in the technically demanding coda were dispatched with aplomb. In the final movement, Anderszewski conjured a dreamlike tapestry of sound using highly elastic phrasing and some opulent tone colours.

Anderszewski stood to acknowledge the enthusiastic applause from a packed Queen Elizabeth Hall. In addition to playing Bach’s G major French suite for a second time, he also gave a shaded and nuanced performance of the Sarabande from Bach’s first Partita.

Robert Beattie