Christian Blackshaw, Wigmore Hall
Monday 09 January 2012
Horses for courses: the question of which
keyboard instruments suit which composers’ music is as pertinent now as it was
when the harpsichord and fortepiano were competing for dominance in the
Though Bach was a demanding connoisseur of new instruments, his music famously works on more or less anything: it dwells essentially in the mind, with considerations of timbre being secondary. But as Beethoven always wanted a bigger sound – for musical reasons as well as medical ones – he would have been delighted to get his hands on a modern Steinway, while Liszt - revelling in its luxurious colour palette - would have been over the moon. For Chopin there are pros and cons with a modern grand: his subtly calibrated art can sometimes emerge more interestingly on a Pleyel of his period.
And Mozart? When Christian Blackshaw launched into Sonata No 1 K279 on his Steinway, I had doubts. The sound seemed too rich, too fat. This was partly because of the way he played it, with the utmost delicacy in the upper registers and with muscular force down below, resulting in the balance between the registers being lost. One also wanted a transparency of sound which this instrument could never provide.
But one could savour the orchestral effects Blackshaw created in this opening recital of his Mozart sonata cycle, with virtual violins and cellos, flutes and bassoons in full antiphonal cry. Blackshaw sees his challenge as being to bring out the individual character of these finely constructed works; for him they are in effect mini-operas. And his playing was at times highly operatic, with the slow movements becoming quintessential arias: he created such beauty in the second sonata’s Adagio that I would gladly have listened to two repeats of the opening section, rather than one.
Nobody else plays Mozart as this veteran does, because nobody else has his velvet, hair-trigger touch. He attributes this to his tutelage under the great Clifford Curzon, who induced him to make every note sing; even Blackshaw’s chords are unique, with the keys stroked, and slightly arpeggiated, to feline effect. In his hands the pared-down Adagio of the K570 sonata had the expressive resonance of a concerto solo. One could argue at times with Blackshaw’s interpretations, but this series is going to be fascinating.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant