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The Four Faces of an Evening

New York
Issac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
12/03/2008 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Partita No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 826
Robert Schumann: Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Opus 26
Leoš Janácek: In The Mists
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 31 in A flat Major, Opus 110

Piotr Anderszewski (Piano)

Piotr Anderszewski (© Sheila Rock/Virgin Classics)

“Only the mediocre are always at their best”, said Jean Giraudoux, and Piotr Anderszewski is hardly a mediocre pianist. Nearing the age of 40, the Polish-Hungarian artist has made a superlative recording of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, has played some excellent Karol Szymanowski, and receives the usual praise for everything from Bach and Beethoven to, of course, Chopin.

But the concert last night in Carnegie Hall showed a quartet of Mr. Anderszewski’s faces, each interesting, not all of them endearing. If his Bach was harsh, his Janácek was magical. If his Schumann ran away with itself, his Beethoven had a severe logic.

No doubt Mr. Anderszewski is an artist with a mind very much his own. Coming on stage dressed in black, he starts to play with hardly a pause, his body as still as his fingers are fleeting. He could sound almost heedlessly spontaneous in the Viennese Carnival Joke, but the few idiosyncratic moments in the Bach seemed too well planned to make an effect.

For the Bach Second Partita, Mr. Anderszewski made no attempt at “period” music. This was a full-blooded Steinway performance, using both pedals and all the dynamics. The opening Sinfonia could have been written by Liszt, dissonant, percussive, portentous. After this, he not only calmed down but played a most gracious Allemande. The last two movements were like orchestral arrangements, the Sarabande with a strange pizzicato notation, and the final Rondo beautifully textured in three different voices at the keyboard. In fact, this last movement, with its playful contrasts, its jumping dance rhythms, its delicious leaps from register to register—and its actual transparency of lines— was a joyous treat compared to the self-conscious affects of the first.

Robert Schumann’s Carnival Joke showed Mr. Anderszewski at his most dizzying, but the Romance and Intermezzo were most memorable for being most introspective.

This first half was pleasing, but hardly cut new ground. Obviously, Mr. Anderszewski was setting his mind on Leoš Janácek’s In The Mists. Even while the audience were casually taking their seats, Mr. Anderszewski began the first movement, paying no attention to the hubbub. And that was where the mystery—enigmatic, unready to reveal very much—commenced. Few can perform these strange works without trying oh so hard to “achieve” a mood. Mr. Anderszewski simply played them. The wonderful repetitive motifs, the slashing two-measure cadenzas, the opaque coloring, the language which is neither vocal nor pianistic but something more esoteric, more (I’m reluctant to say it!) metaphysical.

The work is relatively unfamiliar in New York, but so engrossed was the pianist in the inner mind of the composer that the audience realized they had heard music which is singular, far-reaching, and, yes, satisfying.

Mr. Anderszewski’s genius came in hardly giving a two-beat pause before starting the tranquil Beethoven late 31st Sonata. No two composers could be more different (despite Janácek’s obsession with the “Kreutzer”), but both composers could disguise great moments with the simplest phrases. Unlike the Schumann, Mr. Anderszewski played the Beethoven with care (though not playing the repeat of the first movement), precision and above all, thought. The logic of the movements, leading to the final fugue, had more than technical mastery. It had an organic sense of the inevitable, and was ravishingly good.

Now entirely in the mood, Mr. Anderszewski didn’t need the ersatz modesty of “please give us some encores”. He played three in succession. One, apparently an early Bartók (I had never heard it before), part of a Bach Suite, and finally a late Mozart Fantasia. They were each not only splendid, but they showed him at his most informal, natural and happily nonchalant.

Harry Rolnick



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