Piotr Anderszewski, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Piotr Anderszewski is one of those pianists whose eccentricities make him interesting. There is more often than not method in the madness. But the first half of this recital found him oddly distracted and out of sorts. Strange to say, but Anderszewski just wasn't there.

In one of two last-minute changes of programme he began with Bach Partita No 2 in C minor which he dispatched in an almost wilfully prosaic, off-hand manner. It was plain, not in the Shaker sense, but rather in the sense that the concert had not yet begun and he was just getting his fingers moving. More disturbing was the piece's refusal to dance. A whole raft of awkward phrasings and misplaced accents reminded me of the old joke about one of his legs being shorter than the other.

Szymanowski's Masques fared better in a splashy, coldly calculating kind of way. This is music whose rough-hewn folkloric origins are married to an expensive sophistication. But should its bejewelled colouristic effects sound so relentlessly unlovely? In the first piece, which draws its inspiration from the tale-teller Sheherazade from The Thousand and One Nights, there were admittedly glimmers of the lady's elusive beauty, but the thrust of Anderszewski's argument was that it was the high melodrama of her tales that was keeping her alive to see another day. Even the Don Juan of the final piece sounded more harassed than harmonious. For all its wild extremes, this music is, or should be, seductive. It wasn't.

But then an entirely different pianist emerged in the second half. Schumann's profoundly ironic Humoreske took us on an emotional journey from which there could be no easy return. Schumann described this extraordinary piece as like a set of variations without a theme. But the theme was always his beloved Clara and the variations a chronicle of his state of mind at their enforced separation.

Humoreske does indeed open with a theme, a very beautiful one, but it seems neither to begin nor to end but rather to muse on that possibility. Anderszewski caught the feeling to perfection, becoming Schumann in order to understand him. His frustration was scarily real, the music jackknifing from one extreme to another. But always it returned to these oasis-like reflections on Clara, where Anderszewski found and embraced and almost refused to let go of every consonant chord. That's the player we know and love.