And so we were sorry to hear that Mitsuko Uchida was ill and unable to play tonight at the Festival Hall in London but amazed that at such short notice Krystian Zimerman was able to take her place. The last two great Sonatas by Schubert in A major and B flat and four mazurkas by Szymanowski in programme. I still remember Zimermans performance, in this very hall,twenty years ago of the other Sonata in the trilogy .The Sonata in C minor, and it has remained in my memory as one of the most intimate but at the same time forceful interpretations I have ever heard.
And so it was tonight it came to mind Joan Chisell’s title of a review of a Rubinstein recital in the ’70’s :”The Prince of Pianists”. For here never have I heard,since Rubinstein, the piano sound so beautiful but also expressive with all that that implies. All the emotions and intelligence were there and one is reminded of the ” canons covered in flowers ” reference to Chopin’s Polonaises.
The A major Sonata has never sounded so grand and at the same time so beautiful .Gone is the usual hard edged Beethoven sound because here we are in the very particular sound world all Schuberts own. From the opening cascading arpeggios to the beseeching counterpoint on the return of the melody in the slow movement. Never has the hesitant final theme in the last movement sounded so nostalgic .
And so it was after the interval .Four Szymanowski mazurkas just as his mentor Rubinstein would do in the middle of an all Chopin recital like a sorbet before continuing.with the cordon bleu plate placed before us. And what a plate probably one of the most beautifully coherent performances this hall has witnessed of Schubert`s last great Sonata. I remember Rubinstein bringing his own piano to the recording studio in Rome trying to find that very special sound world that this work inhabits. Barenboim too had designed recently a single stringed instrument based on one he had found in Siena , and reproduced by Roberto Valli under his name , in the search for that elusive sound. Here Zimerman also aided by his faithful italian technician,Tonino Rappoccio, had been able to find on his own Steinway, I presume, that special mellow but full singing sound. I believe recently they even fished out an old piano backstage in Macerata and after working on it used it for this very recital programme in that city. Much to the cities delight and amazement they found they had a concert piano actually of their own. Interesting use of the pedal in the repeated single note that announces the last movement . As in the slow movement of the A major sonata before the interval. A sort of double escapement (as in Carnaval)which obviously comes from Zimermans knowledge and study of the capability and limits of the pianos of Schuberts time So many wonderful things but not just for their sake but incorporated in an intelligent ,knowledgeable discourse(with the score always visible and ready to be reinterpreted on top of the piano) that kept the vast audience in silent rapture. Three encores , real baubles turned into gems by this magician. Could they have been Medtner or even early Szymanowski?Indeed grazie Tonino per la conferma di tre Preludi op 1 di Szymanowski. No importance as it held us all in raptures well into the foyer where all our young lions were enchanted and not a little bewildered but indeed bewitched by the great lesson of intelligence, beauty and simplicity that we had all been privileged to witness.