United Kingdom Chopin: Christina Ortiz (piano) Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 27.11.2013 (CC)
Ballades Nos. 1-4
Scherzos Nos. 1-4
Chopin is hardly a composer with whom Christina Ortiz is associated, so this recital promised to be stimulating, if nothing else. Her recordings are generally well respected, and her repertoire is wide and intelligently selected.
In the event this was a disappointment almost from first to last. The programming was well thought out: Scherzo 1, Ballade 2, Scherzo 3 and Ballade 4 in the first half; Ballade 1, Scherzo 2, Ballade 3 and Scherzo 4 in the second. But the sense of drama, and the vital narrative thread, was all but absent throughout. The First Scherzo set out the stall for the evening. Soft-edged, strangely over-delicate with over-languorous contrasting sections, it felt like Chopin’s shadow.
The F-Major Ballade fared no better, lacking any appealing sense of rocking in its opening bars. The rhythmic instability and some splashiness were all emphasised by the low-voltage delivery. And so it went on. The wonderful Third Scherzo, the C sharp-minor, somehow miraculously lost almost all of its magic. This piece, more than any so far, emphasised how light-toned Ortiz’s sound is, how lacking in depth. The F-Minor Ballade that followed had little character, although there was at least some sense, however small, of cumulative momentum.
The way Ortiz went straight into the opening of the First Ballade after the interval was less of a dramatic move, more a statement of intent to get it over with. Or so it seemed. The vital silences were curtailed, the coda an uneventful arrival rather than an edge-of-the-seat climax. “Nondescript” describes perfectly the triplets of the Second Scherzo’s opening; the contrasting chords had little or no majesty, while the Third Ballade was so free rhythmically that it sounded as if it was disintegrating.
The occasional hesitation of Ortiz’ hands, as if they were not sure which part of the keyboard they should go to, was disturbing, but it was the miscalculated approach that really diminished Chopin. The Fourth Scherzo, the E-Major, is arguably the most difficult to bring off – it is certainly the most enigmatic Scherzo of the four. Ortiz seemed lost, interpretatively. The biggest surprise was perhaps that there were encores at all: a remarkably fast Brahms Intermezzo Op. 118/6 that revealed not one jot of this piece’s twilit magnificence, and the Fauré Impromptu Op. 34 that was simply workaday. A great shame.