United Kingdom Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann. Federico Colli (piano), Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 22.3.2014 (RB)
Mozart – Sonata No. 5 in G Major K283
Beethoven – Sonata No. 23 in F Minor Op 57 ‘Appassionata’
Schumann – Sonata No. 1 in F Sharp Minor Op 11
Federico Colli walked away with the First Prize at the last Leeds International Piano Competition after giving a thrilling performance of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto. He has been hailed by some commentators as the successor to Michelangeli and Pollini in the grand Italian tradition. He reminds me much more of Michelangeli and, like that pianist, he is a consummate stylist and technician, although he does not yet have Michelangeli’s full range of artistic gifts. Colli was wearing his now trademark silk cravat and he brings the showman’s flair and panache to the concert platform although he is clearly a very serious musician.
He opened his recital with Mozart’s early G Major Sonata, which was the penultimate work in a set of six which the composer wrote between 1773 and 1775. The playing was stylish and elegant in the opening Allegro and the phrasing immaculate while the passagework was very clean and even. In the development section, Colli brought out the wit and humour and the elements of harmonic surprise. I found the articulation and phrasing a little mannered at the beginning of the Andante but Colli’s playing was so good that he succeeded in winning me over – if you play this music completely straight it can sound a little dull and there was certainly nothing boring about this performance. The final Presto was a complete delight with the winning exuberance and high spirits shining through.
From Mozart Colli moved to one of the great pinnacles of the repertoire: Beethoven’s Appassionata sonata. His playing was technically very impressive in the opening movement but it did not quite gel for me. Some of the pianistic effects appeared very calculated and precise and I missed the sense of immediacy in the unfolding drama. The slow movement was much better with Colli bringing out the sense of nobility in the opening theme while the variations unfolded with a mellifluous classical grace and charm. The finale was a dazzling piece of playing with Colli doing a fabulous job whipping up the dark whirling turbulence of the movement while the coda was a pure adrenaline rush.
Schumann’s First Piano Sonata is a great and much underrated piece and I was delighted to see Colli championing this work in this debut recital – he is clearly a very fine Schumann exponent. The opening of the piece was arresting with Colli capturing perfectly the schizophrenic shifts between the dreamy and impetuous sides of Schumann’s personality. In the ensuing Allegro he navigated his way expertly through the composer’s mercurial mood shifts and flights of fancy and the passagework was brilliantly controlled. The opening of the slow movement was absolutely gorgeous and seemed to float on an invisible cushion of sound and I loved the way Colli captured the burning, repressed passion (was this the composer’s feelings for Clara or Ernestine von Fricken, I wonder?). The scherzo was bustling with manic energy and I particularly liked the mock heroics and pomposity of the second intermezzo. The finale of this sonata is technically very demanding and Colli rose to the challenge with aplomb. He succeeded in creating a shifting vista of highly coloured tableau and some of the passagework was played with a ravishing tenderness and warmth and was full of feeling.
As an encore, Colli gave a deft and highly accomplished account of Pletnev’s transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. This was a great debut from Colli and he is clearly a rising star of the keyboard.