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
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary