Eloquent Homage to Lipatti from James Lisney

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Haydn: James Lisney, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 25.3.2014.(RJ)

Bach: Partita in B flat, BWV 825
Mozart: Sonata in A, K310
Schubert: Two Impromptus: No 3 in G flat; No 2 in E flat. D899
Chopin: Polonaise in C sharp, Op 26/1; Opus 56 Nocturnes 1 and 2
Haydn: Sonata in E flat, Hob XVI:52

Hardly a week seems to go by without mention of the Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti in classical music radio programmes in which presenters speak his name with hushed reverence.  This is astonishing for a musician who died in 1950 at the tender age of 33 – a victim of Hodgkin’s lymphoma – and whose recording legacy is pitifully small. Despite this he has attained legendary status.

In this recital James Lisney reprised the first part of Lipatti’s last recital in Besançon in France when the Romanian was so frail he had to be helped on to the stage. Yet once his fingers touched the keyboard his strength seemed miraculously to return and, by all accounts, he gave a truly magnificent performance. Alas his strength gave out towards the end of the second half and he had to replace the final Chopin waltz with Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

Fortunately, James Lisney was in fine fettle despite a recent knee operation, and he was in no way attempting to imitate Lipatti’s style. He brought an air of nonchalance and cheerfulness to the Bach Partita as befitted a work composed to celebrate the birth of a prince. The bouncy Allemande contrasted with the serene Sarabande which offered pause for reflection. The two minuets were over in a trice before the bright and fast paced gigue rounded off the piece.

Mozart’s Sonata in A was composed after the death of his mother and is more sombre in tone. In this performance one could almost see the tears flowing. In the development section of the opening movement the composer seems to be remonstrating with fate, though the song-like Andante cantabile offered a measure of comfort. There was a sense of urgency about the presto finale with not even a momentary pause for breath.

Lisney is a fine interpreter of Schubert and in past years has taken his audiences on a Schubertreise exploring the inner depths of the composer. The two impromptus he played charmed with their lyricism but as the music progressed one was made conscious of undercurrents of anxiety and foreboding. The Impromptu No 2, in particular, sounded relatively carefree at first, but had a much darker, more desperate inner core.

The second half of the programme was devoted to works which are particular favourites of Lisney. The Chopin Polonaise in C sharp was characterised by a passionate Romantic ardour which swept one off one’s feet, while the two nocturnes offered a calm wistful contrast. But  Lisney chose to finish on a more life-affirming note with a composer who lived to a ripe old age and could look back on a life of fulfilment. Papa Haydn was enjoying life to the full in London when he wrote his final sonata which conveys the impression of a person content with his lot. There were moments which sounded positively Beethovenian but throughout there was a sense of playfulness; Lisney certainly made the most of this in the concluding Presto with its sudden pauses and outbursts.

Roger Jones


Leave a Comment