Pierre-Laurent Aimard – review

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Pierre-Laurent Aimard's response to the Liszt bicentenary has been as probing as one would expect from the French pianist. Earlier in the year, he recorded two Vienna recitals for a live double CD, putting the composer's works into the context of those he inspired. The Southbank Centre hosted the first programme a month ago; this second concert had Liszt's B minor Piano Sonata as a climactic finish.

The first half of the programme, however, brought a sequence that offered a different view of Liszt. Aimard played three of his short, late piano works and followed each with a one-movement sonata by another composer, holding his poise at the piano to ensure nobody dared do anything so distracting as to applaud. The connections weren't obvious on paper, with the exception of the first: Aimard followed the pitch-black sonorities of La Lugubre Gondola, written after a premonition of his son-in-law Wagner's death, with that composer's Sonata in A flat, a piece that sounds unmistakeably Wagnerian if not entirely idiomatic on the piano.

The rest was like a revealing degrees-of-separation game: just three minutes of Liszt – his fleeting Nuages Gris – was enough to provide a link from the Wagner to Berg's melancholy Op 1 Sonata, and then an at times mechanical account of Liszt's Unstern! Sinistre, Disastro led into Scriabin's Sonata No 9. All were thoughtful but somewhat bloodless. Aimard seemed to be performing with his intellect rather than his emotions, though some blurry sustaining pedal meant that his playing was not always as crisp as that suggests. The Liszt Sonata, which alone comprised the second half, made up for that. Aimard paced this half-hour-long warhorse finely, sailing through its virtuoso tests. Finally, his head and heart seemed to be in balance. There was expansiveness, exuberance and – at last – passion.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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