Hall One, Kings Place
Variations brillantes in B-flat major on a theme from Hérold's Ludovic, op.12
Polonaises, op.71: no.2 in B-flat major, and no.3 in F minor
Rondeau à la Mazur, op.5
Three Mazurkas, op.59
Ballade no.3 in A-flat major, op.47
Waltz in E-flat major, op.posth.
Two Waltzes, op.69
Two Nocturnes, Op.48
No.2 in A minor
No.6 in E-flat minor
No.7 in C major
No.9 in F minor
No.10 in A-flat major
No.12 in C minor
Three Mazurkas, op.posth.
Polonaise in A-flat major, op.53
I have doubtless been spoiled for Chopin recently, having been treated to twin ‘birthday’ recitals from both Krystian Zimerman and Maurizio Pollini. Nevertheless, this instalment of the Kings Place Chopin Unwrapped series – the composer’s entire œuvre – proved bitterly disappointing. Martino Tirimo is a much recorded and, it would seem, widely respected pianist but this was, I think, the first time I have heard him, live or otherwise. Laudable though his project to perform all of Chopin’s works may be, the impression was of a pianist whose (presumably) better days lay behind him.
I felt indulgent during the opening Variations brillantes, since it is difficult to care one way or the other about so vapid a work. (How could Chopin ever have descended so low?) But the performance was nevertheless disturbing; it sounded as though Tirimo were sight-reading and was littered with hesitations and errors. Despite their high opus number, the Polonaises, op.71, are early works: better than the dreadful Variations, yet of little more than documentary interest. The two we heard here were characterised by undue stiffness of rhythm. There was greater charm to the sixteen-year old composer’s Rondeau à la Mazur, a more individual, albeit flawed work. (It goes on a bit – all the more so in this performance.) But a greater freeness earlier on was most welcome, even if Tirimo’s performance later turned effortful, a word that often came to my mind this evening. Greater clarity of line was heard in the three Mazurkas that followed (op.59), though, especially during the first, direction seemed lacking and the central section again seemed effortful. A highly Romantic reading of the third surprised, not unpleasantly. Concluding the first half was the third Ballade. In general, it was technically secure – one would have hoped so, but this was not always to be taken for granted – yet heavy and plodding. The great climax sounded like laboured Liszt: odd for a pianist whose sympathies would seem more Classical.
The second half was better, though rarely impressive. The C minor Waltz, op.69 no.1, had its heavy-handed moments but showed more sense of direction. There was never, though, the sense of sovereign command that great Chopin interpreters display as if they can do no other. The C minor Nocturne was taken at a surprisingly swift tempo, or at least its opening was, for Tirimo made a meal out of the spread chord section. The central section of the companion Nocturne in F-sharp minor also dragged. For the selection of six Etudes from the op.10 set, only two really came off: best of all the F minor, given a full-blooded Romantic account, though the ‘Revolutionary’ Etude, despite a certain apparent caution, on the whole convinced too. The A minor Etude sounded like little more than a (none too successful) finger study, its E-flat minor successor – in Tirimo’s ordering – likewise lacking in song or poetry. The remaining pieces, those in C major and A-flat major, were gabbled. From the set of posthumous Mazurkas, I liked the sense of the untamed, the raw, in the C major piece, but that in B-flat major plodded along, its bar lines pedantically audible. To conclude with the A-flat Polonaise unwisely courted comparison - in practice, contrast - with Arthur Rubinstein. Suffice it to say that this account was often merely loud. The work hardly presents Chopin at his dreamiest, but even so… At least there was no encore.