Music: Krystian Zimerman; Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
Three sonatas, by Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, formed Krystian Zimerman's piano recital at the Royal Festival Hall on Friday. There were no encores, which would have been superfluous after a serious, solid programme that was satisfying without any razzmatazz.

Zimerman is a very polished artist, which is not to say he lacks humour. He chose Haydn's Sonata in E flat, H XV1 49 - not the later, grander one in the same key, but its predecessor, which starts with crisp playfulness and ends in Minuet tempo. Beginning with spirited robustness, Zimerman tended to hurry once past the exposition of the first movement. Yet he obviously enjoyed Haydn's gleeful details, giving them plenty of colour, and he had no problem at all with the florid elaborations of the slow middle movement, which is full of pitfalls for the musically near-sighted.

Beethoven's Sonata in E major, Op 109, is played a bit too often nowadays. Do pianists think it an easy option? The most modest of the three last sonatas, it's still only suitable for the most experienced players. Zimerman gave it a lovely performance, deceptively simple and fluent in the first movement, not straining after imaginary mysteries in the last, though responsive to its incandescence. His sound - and presumably, as usual, he had brought his own piano - was always clean and evenly modulated. It's easy to take that kind of accomplishment for granted.

Nothing, you might think, should follow Op 109, unless it's Beethoven's own Op 110 or 111. Or one of Schubert's last three sonatas, though Schubert himself would have said they were unworthy. Zimerman chose the A major, which, perhaps of the three, is the only one in which the finale is on a level of comparable sublimity to the first movement. Not because it ties a knot at the end by recalling the very beginning, but because of its tremendous range of moods and sense of a journey. It keeps you on the edge of your seat because you can rarely predict what will happen.

Zimerman took the first movement quite briskly. He eased up in the coda of the exposition to exquisite effect, though passages in the development began to feel uncomfortably fast. It was neither really grand nor rugged, which the music can be. The slow movement is one of the wonders of the piano literature - a tolling elegy, in the middle of which Schubert conjures up a tempest, which was magnificently done by Zimerman, apparently with total control and a sort of grand objectivity. He was quite classical in the Scherzo, too, taking it straight, without the rhythmic grimaces you sometimes hear. Then he let the finale tell its own story, without pressing the effect of its awe-inspiring discoveries unduly. They were undiminished, and there was a delightfully sprightly burst of speed at the end.

ADRIAN JACK

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