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Elisabeth Leonskaja
Wigmore Hall – 9 February 2006


Shostakovich – Piano Sonata No 2 in B minor Op 61
Preludes and Fugues Op 87 – Nos 3 & 5

Brahms Fantasien Op 116; Klavierstucke Op 118 & Op 119


This was almost two recitals in one: a celebration of Shostakovich's centenary plus a rare chance to hear Brahms' late piano pieces of 1892 played at one sitting


To give Shostakovich pride of place, as anniversaries rule London's concert life, his second Piano Sonata (1943), which follows his great “Leningrad” Symphony, is a work that harks back to an earlier period in the composer's development, when he had immersed himself in the avant-garde milieu of Berg, Hindemith and Stravinsky. In the opening Allegretto he almost walks a tightrope between the conflicting chromatic ideas, and in the central Largo the theme sweeps in arches is superimposed above a slow waltz-time motive. The finale's theme-and-variations structure with its instant rhythm brings the piece to a memorable close. The two Preludes and Fugues were well chosen to grab attention, both have a quicksilver, chame leon like quality and as the fugues twist and turn the melody, leaving the audience almost breathless by their end.


By 1892 Brahms was nearing the end of his active life, with the death of his sister and various close friends leaving him with a sense of increasing isolation. His sombre mood is reflected in the piano music of the time; three sets of short pieces, often heard individually. They are by no means all doom and gloom, there are moments of blustering energy which dissolve into passages of the utmost tenderness only to be followed by movements of charm and vivacity. Played in sequence as on this occasion, they put on display the full tapestry of feelings, as Brahms had intended.


No better pianist could have been chosen for the occasion than Elizabeth Leonskaja, her phrasing is impeccable and each piece was played with dedicated care. She appeared to have a couple of anxious moments towards the end of the Sonata, as apparently a spring had dropped out of the keyboard and one of the notes was sticking. With customary Wigmore Hall efficiency, an engineer took charge during the interval, and proceeded to dismantle and make good the damage in short order.


© Serena Fenwick


Portrait Oliver Jordan