Classical: Making the difficult appear simple

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The Independent Culture

SUNDAY AFTERNOON'S recital was a classic, if it isn't absurd to talk in those terms about a pianist as young as Piotr Anderszewski. At the age of 30 he is clearly searching and developing, and to a large extent, resists the obvious tactics of a high-flying solo career. Four composers with whom Anderszewski has a special rapport accounted for themselves not necessarily in their best-known works, but nonetheless in pieces that cut a deep cross-section of their character: Beethoven was represented by his last set of Bagatelles, Chopin by four Mazurkas, Op 30.

Nor did Anderszewski arrange his programme in historical order. Bach's third English Suite came last. And he began with the music for which we needed the most open ears. Szymanowski's three Masques go a long way to answer the question whether there was any life after Scriabin. They were composed in 1916, the year after Scriabin died. Harmonically, the music is much freer than Scriabin's, and Szymanowski's variety of expressive gesture is immense, with extremes of dynamic and character in close proximity which challenge even a pianist as resourceful as Anderszewski. Not surprisingly, Szymanowski thought of orchestrating Masques, and they cry out for it. Meanwhile, Anderszewski should record them, so that he can hone their myriad nuances and transcend the restricted sound of a piano in a hall.

The first of Beethoven's Bagatelles seemed so simple and pure after Szymanowski. Yet these were not simple performances, and justified Beethoven's confidence in the pieces, which he told his publisher were the best things of the kind he had ever written. Anderszewski used a lot of soft pedal, wrapping the music as if in a dream, though the second Bagatelle grew in expressive range, and the fourth was duly serious. Trifles or not, by the end of the cycle, you felt deeply satisfied.

Anderszewski lives in France, and he's been described as "half Polish" because his mother is Hungarian. I'm not sure what any of this means, but his Polishness does have some significance for his playing. Not that Polish pianists invariably capture a convincing style in Chopin's Mazurkas. In the Op 30 set, Anderszewski certainly did, and showed that there's no simple recipe for that style - even the idiomatic rhythmic bending varies according to the piece. In the first he was by turns shy and passionate, in the second, more direct and animated. In the third he put his weight behind a big, dark, sumptuous sound, and used a lot of pedal. He slipped into the oblique opening of the last Mazurka very delicately.

In Bach's third English Suite he drew on all the subtleties of touch and volume he had brought to Chopin, yet without exactly making the music romantic. The festive, concerto-like Prelude had frothy staccato in the right hand. The Allemande flickered with varied emphasis among its contrapuntal layers, while in the outer sections of the Courante the top voice was very quiet as Anderszewski drew attention to the interest beneath it. He began the Sarabande sternly, later withdrawing into a private reverie, and the Gavottes were delicately coloured. The final Gigue was loud and strong, its force relieved by quieter playing at the start of the second section.

The last time Anderszewski played at the Wigmore Hall, he played an entire Bach suite as an encore. This time, he contented himself with a Mazurka by Szymanowski, a Lyric Piece by Grieg and, in contrast with their robustness, Chopin's exquisitely plaintive G sharp minor Mazurka.