Sub-standard Scherzo at the BSO
KRYSTIN ZIMERMAN With the BSO At Symphony Hall April 30
Last Friday evening Krystian Zimerman played before an audience that was suspicious of his tendency to cancel at the last minute. In the fall he bailed on an engagement to perform a Rachmaninoff concerto with the BSO and left many ticketholders scowling and cursing. This time around, playing explosively, he left ticketholders smiling and cursing the absence of a second encore.
The first half of his program was all Chopin, beginning with the F-sharp Impromptu, Op. 36. A rich sotto voce approach was somewhat undone by an erstwhile banginess in the right hand; transparent scalar passages were a key ingredient in the strong finish. This piece reminded one of the best playing of the rude and unpredictable Vladimir Feltsman, who seems to patronize Mr. Zimerman's barber, if not vice versa.
The B-flat minor Scherzo, the piece used by that eerie little Russian girl to intimidate Richard Dreyfus in "The Competition," came off worse. Its main weakness was lack of dynamic range--or rather, lack of sensitive dynamic range, as one tended to be awed by Zimerman's ferocious key depth without forgetting the harsh sounds it sometimes produced. A stricter observance of tempi would also have been in order; this was Chopin, not Debussy. In any case the risks he took at high speeds were admirable, and his confident, blind leaps across three octaves are a reproach to showier pianists who conduct their business at unnecessary altitudes above the keyboard. The Three Mazurkas Op. 56 were a satisfying palate cleanser, so to speak. The first sounded at one moment like the bustling "Of Foreign Lands and Peoples" from Schumann's "Scenes from Childhood," and the second had the robust smack of Schubert laendler. Zimerman was subtle at highlighting the ternary structure of these pieces, and the introspective third was best of all, with a sudden dashed-off ending that brought laughter.
The night's finest performance came in the F minor Fantasy, Op. 49. The astonishing scope of this late masterpiece requires a pianist with patience and experience. Zimerman was comfortable in the realm of the Fantasy's quirks--a march-like theme at the outset is never recapitulated; the piece ends in the relative major, not the parallel major--which place it far outside the world of the salon. The virtues of his playing were many: sizzling arpeggios, perfect pedaling, nimble wrist octaves, barnburning virtuosity in the big contrary-motion sweeps, so much that he lifted himself off the bench. The ending, mostly reminiscent of the G minor Ballade, included a final two chords that were so well executed as to seem prophetic. The second half of the program was a Schumann sonata in which all of the details were in place. The F-sharp Minor sonata Op. 11 is a sprawling piece of juvenilia that requires a tight vision of elements that don't necessarily relate organically to each other, as is the case with the greater master-piece, the Fantasy Op. 17. Although Zimerman seemed marginally less comfortable here than in the Chopin idiom and sometimes shortchanged Schumann's dotted rhythms, the middle movements especially were full of fresh phrasings and well-judged rubato. The finale is fun music, and Zimerman seemed to be having fun with it. For an encore he gave the F-sharp Romance, Op. 28 No. 2, informing the audience that it was the last thing Clara Schumann heard before she died. This was amazing, drop-dead gorgeous playing, but with little trace of the rhetorical duet-like structure of the piece--a secretary's vision of what Schuman really wrote. The audience wanted a second encore, but perhaps deserved to be punished for such a low turnout. Boston audiences should be flocking to hear every artist in the Celebrity Series Aaron and Ann Richmond piano recitals--do not miss next year's season, which will begin around October.