United Kingdom Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninov: Kasparas Uinskas (piano), Wigmore Hall 4.4.2014 (RB)
Brahms Four Ballades Op 10
Chopin Twelve Études Op 25
Debussy Four pieces
Rachmaninov Sonata No. 2 in B Flat Minor Op 36
Kasparas Uinskas is a brilliant young Lithuanian pianist who has performed in a number of the World’s leading concert venues to considerable critical acclaim. He has said that he has a particular affinity to Chopin and is clearly most at home playing Romantic music although I would welcome the opportunity to hear him in a wider range of repertoire.
Brahms composed his Four Ballades in 1854 which was quite an eventful time as it was the year in which Robert Schumann attempted suicide and was incarcerated in an asylum. It was also when Brahms’ complex feelings for Clara Schumann were at their most passionate. The first of the four ballades is based on the Scottish poem Edward but no literary sources have been identified for the other three. I loved the slow tempo of the opening piece and the weight and feeling of rapt intensity which Uinskas brought to the performance. There was an immediate contrast with the bright sunny lyricism which opened the second ballade while the rhythmic impetus of the middle section was tight and well controlled. Uinskas brought a feeling of edgy trepidation to the third piece while the central section contained playing of rare delicacy. There was a lovely reflective quality about the last of the pieces with Uinskas making the most of Brahms’ harmonic progressions and inner voices and the close was supremely graceful.
Chopin’s second set of études explore complex technical difficulties but they are also inspirational miniature tone poems. Uinskas is clearly a gifted Chopin player and, like the best exponents of this work, he was able to navigate the technical difficulties in a way which made them seem incidental while at the same time bringing out Chopin’s unique poetic insights. I liked the textures he created in the opening Harp étude and the judicious use of rubato which allowed him to make the most of Chopin’s wonderful harmonic progressions. The F minor was light, brilliant and exceptionally clear while Uinskas did a good job in bringing out some of the contrasting sonorities in the F major. He brought considerable rhythmic impetus to the A minor and the left hand leaps were well controlled and incisive while the middle section of the E minor contained some delicious colours and highly refined playing. The double thirds of the G sharp minor is the most complex technical problem in the set and I thought there was scope for Uinskas to make a little more of the whispered opening figurations and make the scale progressions glide even more smoothly and effortlessly.
Uinskas’ playing seemed to get better and better and the poetic intensity he brought to the C sharp minor was absolutely inspired. The étude in sixths was playful and inventive while the opening double octaves of the B minor had a Lisztian diabolism. I wondered if the central section of the B minor might be a little slower to allow the reflective lyricism to shine through more. In the Winter Wind étude Uinskas created a whirling vortex of sound – there was a memory slip towards the end of the piece from which he recovered well and given the quality of the playing I didn’t really bother about it. The C minor was played with raw passion with Uinskas making the most of the swirling textures and dark tone colours.
The second half opened with Debussy’s Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut which Uinskas played in a ravishing, sensuous manner. There was some excellent exploration of tone colour, texture and sonorities in Ondine from Debussy’s second set of preludes. I was not entirely convinced Uinskas captured the unique, other worldly quality in the opening of Reflets dans l’eau and part of the reason may have been that it was a little too loud but the rippling arpeggios were well handled. Clair de lune which closed the Debussy selection was played with a lovely tonal sheen and finish.
To close Uinskas played the 1931 version of Rachmaninov’s B flat minor Sonata – I always think this is the best version although I can see the attraction of playing the immensely virtuosic 1913 version or creating a hybrid (Horowitz started the trend). Uinskas captured brilliantly the grand Romantic sweep of the opening movement with its turbulent passagework. He brought a tenderness and sensitivity to the slow movement and there was some insightful exploration of the harmonies and inner voices. Like the best players of Rachmaninov, Uinskas kept the rapid passagework clean and dry in the finale with judicious use of pedal and he brought the house down with a barnstorming piece of playing in the coda.
Uinskas performed the first of Chopin’s Op 27 nocturnes as an encore to end an evening of first rate piano playing.