Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849)
Ballade No. 1 in G minor Op. 23
Ballade No. 2 in F Op. 38
Ballade No. 3 in A flat Op. 47
Ballade No. 4 in F minor Op. 52
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet Op. 75
Juliet as a Young Girl
Montagues and Capulets
Romeo and Juliet Before Parting
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Gaspard de la nuit
Four Ballades played as four great statements by Boris Giltburg each one etched with hard driven emphasis.
This was a modern day Chopin that was shorn of all tradition and we were shown the great structure of each one with infinite care of detail but with a driving rhythmic pulse that did allow any sentimentality.
This was an almost Beethovenian Chopin of great weight and clarity.
On a magnificent Fazioli piano he rarely touched the soft pedal such was his technical control.In fact the left foot was used to turn the pages of an I pad discreetly hidden inside the piano.
An ‘aide memoire’ that surely was the reason that for all its magnificence Giltburg’s Chopin rarely touched my heart.It was in a way being present in a recording studio.
Some fleeting moments in the opening of the first Ballade or the delicate return of the opening in the fourth were rare moments to cherish.The high powered explosions in the second or the coda of the fourth seemed out of context being overpowered and played with excessive weight and drive.
The chords at the climax of the fourth I have never heard so detached and rather than being a consequence of the climax they seemed rather clinical and out of place.
Here though was a Chopin of great authority written in stone not in sand.
I remember helping Vlado Perlemuter enter that door onto this very stage when in his 90th year he gave his last concert.He played the four ballades as one with a weight and real legato that relayed the magic of Chopin to his adoring public.The distinguished pianist Irene Kohler came back stage in tears.I pads did not exists and even if they did Vlado knew the scores after a lifetime of living with them.Joan and I waited for him backstage as we had always done in the Ghione Theatre in Rome from when he made his Italian concert debut at the age of 81!Right to this last appearance entering that door was always like going to the guillotine!
The second half was a different ‘kettle of fish’ with ‘diabolical suggestions’from the first to the last with a ravishing contrast of water nymphs and moonlight.
The characterisation and orchestral sense of colour in four pieces from Romeo and Juliet were indeed Ill fated lovers for Valentine’s day.Breathtaking volumes of sound and savage conviction swept all before it with a magnificence that I was not expecting after his comparatively clinical studio performances of Chopin.
Gaspard too was played with a sumptuous kaleidoscope of colour with the fleeting water nymph weaving her way in and out of a glittering sheen of water before climbing the heights with devastating effect and astonishing bravura.A very subdued Le Gibet where the tolling bell became part of this desolate landscape where we had to strain to differentiate them but where the melodic line was chiselled out with deadly impersonal precision.
Scarbo produced the fireworks even at the astonishing pace that this impish goblin was allowed to race around the keyboard.
Passionate outbursts where Giltburg just threw himself into the fray with total devastating abandon.The infamous repeated notes were played with a drill like precision that made the menacing legato even more terrifying.
Claire de lune was the ideal respite for such hard driven performances of Prokofiev and Ravel and it was played with timeless lingering beauty.
The Wiggies were on their feet craving for more and now the disguise was totally lifted as we were torpedoed into an avalanche of diabolical suggestions that left us all totally exhausted and happy to go back home …..perchance to dream …..I sincerely doubt that!