Friday, March 19, 2010


Jacqueline du Pré is remembered in the Wigmore Hall by an annual charity concert; this year’s took place on March 9 and was devoted to the music of Chopin, except for one work, Mozart’s piano trio in E, K. 542 which was a favourite of Chopin ‘s that he played in public in one of his rare concerts. It is one of his most intimate and tender works yet the performance revealed no feeling for style, being brusque and matter-of-fact, curious in that the performers call themselves the London Mozart Trio.

Chopin’s account opened with a peak work, his fourth Ballade in F minor which begins so disarmingly simply and developes in a remarkably convoluting way, almost like seeing a speeded up film of a rain forest, ending with a coda of a cadenza that is a seething mass of modulating brilliance. Evelyne Berezovsky, not yet twenty years of age, a Russian pianist now living in London could see through the tangled paths and guide us on the fantastic journey, the only criticism possible being that she somewhat over-used the sustaining pedal.

In another of Chopin’s recital programmes he played the last three movements of his late cello sonata, a work that often confirms the view that Chopin was not at his best when he added stringed instruments to his palette. Not so on this occasion, for Jamie Walton was thoroughly convincing and so was his pianist, Daniel Grimwood. After the interval Alison Pearce sang three Mazurkas arranged as songs by Pauline Viardot, Chopin’s friend. These are interesting but attention waned because of the singer’s dubious intonation and lack of charm.

Finally Piers Lane played the Fantasie in F minor, Berceuse and the great Barcarolle. Was it the result of waiting two hours in the dressing room that dampened the usual sparkle of this stimulating pianist? All the notes were there …

When the music falls short of interest in the Wigmore I always look at the art-deco frieze above the heads of the artists, commiserating with that central godlike creature who surely cannot be comfortable with his genitals in the grip of a crown of thorns. Beside him is some sort of scribe, copying out music but looking like Pimen (from Boris Gudonov). And beyond him is a naked girl who is suffering, a doctor friend told me, from an inguinal hernia (confirmed by the bulge below her navel).

After looking at the frieze my thoughts wandered to Chopin’s long liaison with Gorge Sand. With her assumption of a masculine name and her scruffy mannish clothes, she might at first be taken for a lesbian. But no, she was apparently a regular man-eater, flitting from one to another if they failed to come up to snuff. She confided her disappointment, for example, with her one night stand with Prosper Merimée. No merry-mating apparently. Yet it looks as if Chopin was often content and productive under her care at her house in Nohant.

For all his dandyish ways and complaints (“I am without my white gloves” he wrote to a friend from Valdemossa) how virile his music is and with genius he could compress his epic visions into small masterworks!!

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