Gwilym Simcock/Leszek Możdżer Steinway festival review – 'prizewinning virtuoso skills'

Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
This first-ever partnership between the British and Polish piano stars was a sophisticated and unpredictable sell-out gig

The annual Steinway festival at the Pizza Express Jazz Club can guarantee packed houses for its pop-friendly or blues-rooted nights, but both shows for the sophisticated and unpredictable two-piano partnership of the UK's Gwilym Simcock and Poland's Leszek Możdżer sold out, too – proof that this pair's mutual affection for song-form lyricism, coupled with prizewinning virtuoso skills, is a magnetic combination.

Simcock and Możdżer are stablemates on Germany's ACT label, but had never played together before the previous day's rehearsal, though both had exchanged scores in advance, and offered each other's highly composed works some personal tweaks.

They began, however, with She Loves You – though they hid the Beatles' hit in softly evasive swells of notes before coming clean and exuberantly chord-punching the famous chorus. Możdżer's Karma Party (a spiky theme of scooting short figures and stabbed chords) revealed the night's necessary method, in which swapped improvisations mostly ran on vamp-like hooks that the two could more readily share, while trickier written themes such as this had to duck in and out as punctuation. Simcock's diaphanous A Joy Forever (from his recent Reverie at Schloss Elmau album) brought sensitive variations in which neither player ever broke the theme's magic spell. Możdżer's rocking Polska triggered a stream of audibly Keith Jarrett-inspired funky inventions from both, and their version of Simcock's Samuel Barber-derived Barber Blues got a slower treatment than usual (Możdżer had added some rearrangement to it) that unleashed some mercurially spontaneous counterpoint. Hydrospeed – an uptempo flurry of prancing lines and ricocheting accents – revealed the pair's growing mutual trust, and Autumn Leaves emerged from a mist of silky arpeggios and sly boogies. But it was the encore on the late Krzysztof Komeda's beautiful, hypnotically modulating Svantetic that brought the house down, as Możdżer paid tribute to a Polish jazz hero and personal idol and Simcock seemed to sense exactly how he felt.

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John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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