Music: A Polonaise without Fantasie/Bernard d'Ascoli/Wigmore Hall

Wintry gusts drove hard over London on the last Wednesday night of 1994, yet even by 6.30 the Wigmore Hall foyer was packed with fans of Bernard d'Ascoli, a pianist who, although much respected and still only in his mid-thirties, is not well repr esentedon records. The programme, too, was irresistible: "Chopin's last five years: the complete piano works", a celebration of melodic richness, harmonic ingenuity and much meaningful counterpoint. And it was indeed a case of "standing room only", as t he French-born d'Ascoli - tall, reserved and blind - edged around the piano, eager to launch into Chopin's epic Polonaise-Fantasie.

The introduction was fairly commanding, but the Polonaise proper, although warmly articulated, lacked colour and panache: it was too strait-laced, more a formal statement than the swaggering, heroic dance-form we know from other interpreters. The middle

section, though, was thoughtfully surveyed, the ensuing storm of trills well handled, and when the crowning peroration finally arrived, the structural logic of D'Ascoli's vision hit home with the appropriate weight, warmth and feeling of exultation.

Next came a quartet of Mazurkas, all composed during the same period (1845-6): the three pieces Op 59 and the celebrated A minor, Op 67 No4. Here D'Ascoli's cosseting touch and artful rubato paid high dividends: he had the measure of the music's eleganc e , sophistication and shifting perspectives; and he could be strongly assertive, too - as in the A flat major. And when it came to the majestic Barcarolle, D'Ascoli refused to rock the boat with excessive rubato; rather, he would modulate his tone accordi ng to the changing complexion of Chopin's harmonies, while the music's crucial bass-line was kept securely within earshot.

Then came two of the greatest Nocturnes, the B major and E major that share Opus 62, the former so full of fantastical pianistic incident, the latter, broad, ballade-like, and warmly played. D'Ascoli seemed more in his element here than anywhere else in the programme, certainly than in the Waltzes (Op 64, Nos 1-3) which, although admirably fluid and unfussy, seemed to me rather unmemorable.

lt was a long but rewarding first half, and the audience loved it. After the interval, D'Ascoli returned with another five Mazurkas, the three Op 63s and one each from Op 68 and Op 67. Once again, the requisite lilt was there, and the tone was nicely graded.

The real test, though, was still in store: Chopin's magnum opus, his Third Sonata. The first movement went reasonably well, with some felicitous phrasing and rather more in the way of dynamic inflexion than we heard in the Polonaise-Fantasie. But althou g h there were many fine moments to savour, I would have welcomed a stronger line and a tighter grip between individual episodes. The Scherzo's trio was very well focused, the Largo had an almost Brahmsian glow and the Finale was both thrilling and unmista kably conclusive. The audience was delighted and D'Ascoli responded with three encores, including the famous E flat Nocturne and the stormy Etude, Op 10 No 4, reminders both of Chopin's brilliant youth and of his own.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor