Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Lighthouse, Poole

Beyond the Looney Tunes and aftershave...Aimard finds Liszt's retiring side

Man of letters, man of the world, man (almost) of the cloth.

Visionary, virtuoso, vulgarian. Eleven months into Franz Liszt's anniversary year, the lavender fumes of legend still obscure the music.

For every bar of the sublime, there are 20 more of exhausting silliness: the glycerined lachrymosity of Liebestraum No 3, the Looney Tunes excess of Totentanz, the too-much-aftershave clinch of the Mephisto Waltz, the grotesque cannonade of the Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H. This is pianism Las Vegas-style, all pan-cake and rhinestones. Or is it?

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, that most cerebral of pianists, has chosen an unusual path for his Liszt anniversary project, reassessing the most flamboyant of Romantics through the works of those he influenced in two recital programmes. Aside from the Becher's Brook of the B-minor Sonata, which Aimard tackles next month with Wagner, Berg and Scriabin, his Liszt is the poet and diarist: painter of cypress shadows, water, sunlight and birdsong. The chosen works are impressionistic and introverted, or as introverted as Liszt gets. Thus the sculptural darkness of Aux cyprès de la Villa d'Este, Thrénodie leads to Bartok's sepulchral dirge Nénie, and the tulle-and-bead arpeggios of Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este lead to Ravel's Jeux d'eau.

Much as Gianandrea Noseda brought Italianate warmth and refinement to his recordings of Liszt's Symphonic Poems with the BBC Philharmonic, Aimard brings an unmistakably French suavity to the piano music. Crisply voiced, transparent, expertly weighted in its slow-blooming, melancholy beauty, Tuesday's exercise in time travel and shared textures betrayed a sense that, for Aimard, the interest shown in Liszt by the living composers he most respects had persuaded him into territory he would otherwise not explore. In the eight works in his unbroken 75-minute sequence, the most striking juxtapositions were between Liszt's Légende No 1: St François d'Assise and Marco Stroppa's Tangata manu, and between Messaien's Le Traquet stapazin and Liszt's Vallée d'Obermann. Here was art and artlessness, ecstasy and awe. The Liszt was clear, controlled and grave. But Stroppa's celestial cascades and sudden Beethovenian sparks of flint, and Messaien's liquid birdsong sound easy under Aimard's fingers where Liszt sounds difficult, self-concious. Aimard, I feel, is a great musician who happens to be a pianist. Liszt, I fear, was a great pianist who happened to compose.

While Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia took their thrilling semi-staging of Duke Bluebeard's Castle to Dortmund and Vienna, Kirill Kara

bits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra peeped behind the sixth door of the castle in the third movement of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. Thirty-two years and several thousand miles separate the two works, but the lake of tears remains central to both. Between the veiled violins of the elegy and the sinister crawling of cello and bass that open the concerto, it is almost as though Bartok were trying on Stravinsky's clothes. The fit is only so-so. Karabits has some peculiar mannerisms on the podium but the sound he has developed since he took over the BSO is magnetic. The blend is robust, the playing suspenseful even in the most static music. I'd love to hear them play the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.

It was a remarkable journey from the chaotic blur of Brahms's Hungarian Dance No 1. Sound clears slowly in the Lighthouse, smearing the textures into a careless, louche glamour. Soloist Viviane Hagner responded instinctively to the acoustic dangers in her performance of Brahms's Violin Concerto, reserving the sweetest and most intense vibrato for the highest passages, stripping her tone back for the low moan of the double-stopped suspensions. This was a daring and dynamic reading, turbulent and truthful, warmed by Bourne-mouth's handsome harmonie band of horns and woodwind. I've heard violinists with cleaner intonation, but not a Brahms with such variety and specificity of sound and attack, or such profound emotional engagement.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London (0844 847 9929), 7 Dec

Next Week:

Anna Picard notches up three heartbreaks in Deborah Warner's new production of Eugene Onegin

Classical Choice

Paul Lewis plays Schubert's Impromptus (D935), Moments Musicaux and Wanderer Fantasy at London's Wigmore Hall (Tue & Thu). Robin Ticciati conducts Karen Cargill and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Les Nuits d'été, the Overture to Gluck's Alceste and Schumann's Symphony No 2, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh (Thu), City Halls, Glasgow (Fri).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on