Krystian Zimerman - Royal Festival Hall, 22 February 2010
Chopin: Nocturne in F sharp minor, Op.15 No.2, Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.35, Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor, Op.31, Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58, Barcarolle in F sharp, Op.60
Encore: Waltz, Op. 64, No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor
Nowadays, the fashionably bearded Krystian Zimerman apparently 'only' performs around 50 times a year (which still sounds pretty industrious to me). The fact that so few of these appearances are in the UK is perhaps not surprising when you consider he carts his own piano around with him like some travelling minstrel, tinkering with its innards to accommodate his own needs and whatever programme he's performing.
Its sound is crystalline, a perfect vehicle for Zimerman's neat articulation. The tight, pinging notes at the top end especially enable the higher notes to emerge in revelatory clarity compared with the Steinway's usual veiled, chalky timbre. When Zimerman wants a softer sound, he creates it with some impressively adept pedalling. For Chopin, that most pianistic of keyboard composers, this extensive spectrum is vital, yet it's something few pianists have the equipment (let alone the ability) to play with.
Like a brilliant singer who polishes every syllable yet never loses sight of the line, or indeed the whole song, Zimerman makes every note count without getting lost in the detail. Indeed the way he drew out the architecture of each piece in distinct timbral blocks was just as impressive as his virtuosic finger work. Though there could be something rather analytical about his measured tempos and immaculately spun-out contrapuntal lines, other moments (particularly in the opening F# minor Nocturne) invoked the quasi-improvisatory inspiration that once had Chopin's own audiences gasping in adoration.
Only once did his focus seem to desert him, and that was in the challenging largo of the B minor Sonata. Unable to evoke the reflective serenity it requires, Zimerman reduced it to a dogged plod. As I later discovered via Jessica Duchen, a none-too-sneaky rogue recording device may have diverted him.
The audience had been trigger-happy with their applause all evening (between movements even!) so the instant standing ovation wasn't that unexpected - but the rare treat of a Zimerman encore, a beautifully detailed C# minor Waltz, was.
***** more photos on next page *****