An Impressive Wigmore Hall Debut by Mateusz Borowiak

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, Albeniz, Chopin, Barber:, Mateusz Borowiak (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 23.3.2014 (RB

Bach – Partita No. 2 in C minor BMV826
Schubert – Impromptu in B flat D935 No. 3
Beethoven – Sonata in A flat Op 110
Albéniz  – Triana; Evocación; Eritaña  (Iberia)
Chopin – Four Mazurkas Op 24
Barber – Piano Sonata in E flat minor Op 26

Mateusz Borowiak is a young Polish pianist who has won prizes in a number of international piano competitions and this was his Wigmore Hall debut.  There was clearly a heightened sense of anticipation about this recital and the hall was packed.  Borowiak gave us an ambitious and wide ranging programme, traversing various musical styles and genres.  He is clearly something of an intellectual as he has a double First from Cambridge University and had prepared his own highly informative and well written programme notes.

The first half of the recital was a real test of musicianship and focused on works from the baroque and classical period, opening with Bach’s C minor Partita.  The chords and dotted rhythms of the opening were muscular with Borowiak deploying a full tone and utilising the full resources of the concert grand.  The ensuing counterpoint was playful and nimble; here Borowiak gave us a range of nicely shaded dynamics.  In the dance movements he repeated the first section and added additional ornaments and embellishments in the repeat; these were tasteful and well executed.  The unique character of each of the dances really shone through:  the allemande had a searching, reflective quality, the courante was spiky and angular while the sarabande had a restrained, contemplative feel.  I wondered if the rondeau might have been a little lighter and the textures more transparent but the final capriccio was a real joy with Borowiak playing with a delightful lightness of touch and rhythmic buoyancy and relishing the ingenuity of the counterpoint.

From Bach we moved to the First Viennese School with Schubert’s impromptu in B Flat and Beethoven’s penultimate piano sonata.  Both of these works are very brave choices for a young pianist but in this case they paid off.  There was a wonderful naturalness in the phrasing of the Schubert with Borowiak shaping the melody beautifully and allowing the music to speak directly and from the heart without any trace of artifice.  The variations were beautifully characterised and I particularly enjoyed the Viennese charm of the second and the wonderful shaping of the lines in the final variation.  I loved the expressive freedom and freshness of the opening movement of the Beethoven although I wondered if Borowiak could have made a little more of the dynamic contrasts in the development section.  The accents and syncopations of the scherzo were handled well, as was the elaborate hand crossing of the central section, although I wanted slightly more manic energy in this movement. Borowiak seemed to find the spiritual transcendence in the arioso final movement and displayed emotional warmth and depth.  The fugal sections were well executed although I am not sure I share Borowiak’s view of the coda, which he described in his programme notes as:  “[a] joyous coda, unhampered by questions, hesitations and uncertainty”.  For me the coda is an expression of unbounded joy which wells up in spite of the pain and I slightly missed that sense of transcending the struggles of life in the music.

For the second half Borowiak gave us a selection of more colourful, extrovert and virtuosic music from the romantic period and 20th Century.  I noticed that he changed from a black tie to a loose-fitting shirt which was probably a wise move given the technical and physical demands of the Albéniz and the Barber!  I am always surprised that not more young pianists tackle Iberia, although the intimidating shadow of Alicia de Larrocha, who gave the definitive interpretation of this music, looms large.  ‘Triana’ was played with rhythmic zest, wit and brio and the horrendous difficulties of the middle section were negotiated deftly.  ‘Evocación’ was very good indeed; Borowiak created an ornately coloured tone poem and brought out the sultry, sensuous and dreamy aspects of the music.  ‘Eritaña’ did not quite have the dancing lightness and flamenco flair of de Larrocha but the extreme technical difficulties were well handled and the music was played with energy and colour, while the final section was a tour de force.

Polish pianists have a home ground advantage with Chopin and Borowiak did not let the side down.  The opening G minor Mazurka was played with a poised, poetic elegance, while the picturesque folk elements of the second were nicely realised.  The A flat major had a patrician swagger while the emotional shifts and dance elements of the final B flat minor were depicted well.

Horowitz gave the first performance of the Barber sonata and it is not a work for the faint hearted.  Borowiak’s handling of the opening movement was very good indeed:  the dotted rhythms were arresting and there was a wide variety of touch, timbre and tone colour and imaginative characterisation of the abstruse thematic material.  The hallucinatory quality of the second movement was perfectly captured and the scabrous and sarcastic elements of the waltz section well handled.  Borowiak did well to sustain the intensity in the passacaglia third movement and he worked the middle section up to a terrifying climax.  The final fugue was rhythmically incisive with the motoric figurations played with a demonic intensity before the shattering dénouement.

Altogether, this was an absolutely remarkable recital from such a young pianist. Borowiak has all the qualities of the consummate musician and virtuoso and is clearly destined for great things.

Robert Beattie

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