Picture credit: Amy T. Zielinski/Redferns
Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Masterful pianism

Bartok, Janacek, Szymanowski (Warner)


Few pianists have given me greater pleasure over the years than the Polish-Hungarian lone wolf Piotr Anderszewski. As a keyboard cub, he made his name 33 years ago by walking off stage in the Leeds Competition semi-finals because he felt he was not playing well enough. Ever since, he has flown a flag of integrity and discretion, regardless of the demands of a public career. His Wiki entry is a decade out of date.

So I was disappointed to find this record decorated with a short statement of dubious accuracy: “The works recorded on this album carry within them a spirit of rebellion.” Not true: none of these composers was much of a rebel, politically or creatively. Anderszewski continues: “No room here for stylisation or decorum; they draw upon the very roots of music.” That’s more like it.

The opening set of five pieces from Janacek’s On an Overgrown Path is wayward, to say the least. Anderszewski fails to grasp the composer’s playfulness and melancholy, his essential contradiction. The accents sound wrong. When in doubt he ups the volume instead of finding quietude. 

The Szymanowski Mazurkas and Bartok Bagatelles are, on the other hand, immaculate. The pianist’s sympathy for these sounds is compelling and hypnotic. Very few interpreters have such filigree touch, distinguishing delicately between neighbouring cultures that speak little to each other. Masterful does not begin to convey the quality of this pianism.

A squint at the small print tells me that the latter tracks were recorded last summer in Berlin, the Janacek seven years ago in Warsaw. There must be a reason it languished unused for so long. Still, even the greatest of artists is allowed a few misses.

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