Piotr Anderszewski, Wigmore Hall
In the strait-laced world of concert pianism, Piotr Anderszewski has long been the joker in the pack. He’s capable of delivering a witty bar-by-bar analysis of his compatriot Chopin’s music while playing it exquisitely; he is a ruthless perfectionist. Critics who rushed off home after a Bach recital he once gave at the Wigmore – assuming his encore would be the usual trifle – missed a repeat of half his programme: dissatisfied with his performance, he simply gave it again.
Filing into the Barbican for a few years ago, we found him already waiting for us on stage: lounging on a sofa, sipping tea, leafing through a magazine. We looked at him, he looked at us. This may be how theatre may begin, but recitals never: decorum demands that the pianist bursts onto the stage like a racehorse from the trap, but Anderszewski waited until people had settled, then strolled to the piano like a guest at the party whose turn it was to play. He got a different kind of attention as a result, a different quality of silence.
With his fiftieth birthday concert the surprise lay in the programme. The pièce de résistance would be Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and it would be preceded by two suites composed by Schumann three years before his death. Sieben Clavierstücke in Fughettenform Opus 126 were the fruit of the composer’s deep immersion in Bach’s 48, and in Anderszewski’s hands they emerged with bright forcefulness. Most pianists would have taken this opportunity to make a present to themselves of their own greatest hits, but Anderszewski’s present was to Schumann’s memory – an affirmation that these late works were the products of a composer still in full possession of his creative powers.
And I have never heard a more gripping performance of the Diabellis. The first three, delivered in a barking parade-ground tone, didn’t seem auspicious, but once properly embarked Anderszewski held us spellbound. If this performance was episodic, with pauses and intermittent surges of power speeding it onwards, so, as the manuscript reveals, was Beethoven’s composition process. The alternating moments of visionary calm and savage excitement were delineated with compelling authority, as was the variation in which tonality disintegrates. I don’t normally think of this work as having a ‘plot’, but this time it did seem to: the quest for wisdom, with many a failed attempt along the way. The final luminous C major chord came like a benediction.
[A version of this review will appear in the July issue of International Piano Magazine]