Arts: Drama but no crisis

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The Independent Culture
KRYSTIAN ZIMERMAN is a scrupulous pianist. You know that from the formal way he walks on the platform, gives one bow and - settling himself at the keyboard - thinks for a moment. He didn't begin his recital on Monday with anything that clamoured for attention, but with Chopin's F sharp major impromptu, which opens in a quietly musing way, then touches - but only touches - a moment of grandeur over a rum-te-tum rhythm in the left hand, and ends with muted recollections of that pattern. It was a strange choice to begin, and the piece seemed thrown away, not because of the way it was played, but because we weren't ready for it.

Chopin's explosive, rhetorical second scherzo came next - something nearly every piano student pounds their way through. Zimerman played it very strongly, yet somehow missed its urgency and sense of surprise.

Yet he caught the rumbustious motion of the second Op 56 mazurka to perfection. The last of the same set of mazurkas was effectively contrasted, melancholy and rather shy.

The all-Chopin first half of the programme ended with the Fantasy, one of Chopin's most varied and passionate works. It was too objectively played, in the manner of a meticulous reading of the composer's text rather than a re-creation of its spirit.

So far so uninvolved or uninvolving. But the second part of the recital, devoted to Schumann's F sharp minor sonata, was remarkable. It's a problematic work, patched together from earlier pieces, and with outer movements that are passionate yet also episodic. At times it seems as if Schumann doesn't quite know where he's got to but decides that the only thing is to persevere.

Zimerman's cool head actually stood him in good stead as far as holding the thread went, yet he also seemed more emotionally involved than he had in Chopin. He shaped Schumann's introduction very naturally, reconciling its casual pre-amble and grandeur, and then propelled the main allegro with terrific rhythmic precision, and an acute sense of timing at its pauses.

The slow second movement was limpid, the hands tellingly contrasted. Then, in the craziest part of the work - a fiery scherzo extended by a fleeting intermezzo and strangely fractured burlesque - Zimerman made the most of a drama which is nothing if not disruptive. Brave man. Schumann's big-hearted finale was played to the hilt, yet without any sign of strain. A remarkably complete performance.

Adrian Jack