Terrific Tchaikovsky from Jonathan Plowright

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Paderewski, Tchaikovsky: Jonathan Plowright (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 19.5.2019. (CC)

Jonathan Plowright (c) Diane Shaw
Jonathan Plowright (c) Diane Shaw

Paderewski Humoresques de Concert Op.14: Menuet célèbre; Sarabande; Caprice (genre Scarlatti)
Tchaikovsky – The Seasons Op.37b

Here was intelligent programming from the superb pianist Jonathan Plowright, whose recordings for both Hyperion and BIS have been so impressive. The nod to the old days of the Golden Age of piano playing in three pieces from Paderewski’s Humoresques de Concert was delightful, The three he chose (the first two plus a Caprice from later in the collection) formed a satisfying tripartite fast-slow-fast shape. Plowright has shown his advocacy of this composer in his Hyperion recordings of that composer’s own piano Sonata and two sets of variations, and also in a disc entitled ‘Homage to Paderewski’, which followed on from his 2010 album ‘Hommage à Chopin’. His trio began with the most famous of the three, the ‘Menuet célèbre’, Plowright enabling us to enter into a different, unrushed world where sparkle is very much part of the equation. The interior central ‘Sarabande’ was most touching (a beautifully archaic gesture lovingly delivered at the movement’s close) before the final ‘Caprice (genre Scarlatti)’ brought the opening segment to a sparkling close, the Scarlatti pastiche lovingly, glitteringly done.

Oftentimes, one just hears excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons (more properly, months). While there is an argument that the complete opus leaves one wishing for a bit more depth, and perhaps Plowright did not have quite the charisma to convince us otherwise – Matsuev in 2015 was another story – this remained a lovely traversal, full of love for Tchaikovsky’s dozen jewels. From the off – ‘January (By the fireside)’ – this was playing of artless simplicity and all the stronger for it. Perhaps the carnival that is February was a touch splashy, but March’s ‘Song of the Lark’ was absolutely beautiful. Plowright’s attention to detail enabled him to bring a freshness to his reading, the “baritone” voices of ‘April (Snowdrop)’ a joy, as were the upwardly rising, throwaway right-hand ascents. What is possibly the cycle’s most famous movement, ‘June (Barcarolle)’ found Plowright spinning the long legato phrases as if from silk, while the active ‘August (The Harvest)’ held great excitement as well as momentum. No missing ‘The Hunt’ that is September, the tone now open and raw as if invoking natural horns. Finding the utmost simplicity for November’s ‘In the Troika’ enabled Plowright to suggest the contrasting sophistication of December’s Christmas Waltz (a ball similarly imagined by Tolstoy, perhaps?).

This was a terrific performance. It was a pity the hall was not fuller, but Plowright just squeezed in an encore: more Paderewski (Legende, Op. 16/1), beautifully turned. This was a lovely way to spend a Sunday lunchtime.

Colin Clarke

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