NEW YORK TIMES
February 10, 2005
RECITAL REVIEW | PIOTR ANDERSZEWSKI
A Backward Glance by a Provocateur With a Modern Sensibility
By ANTHONY TOMMASINI
The pianist Piotr Anderszewski, who gave an engrossing recital at Zankel Hall last night, is a fiercely original and uncompromising artist. It's not that Mr. Anderszewski has lacked establishment success. Born in 1969 to Polish-Hungarian parents, he has won major prizes, notably the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, and made award-winning recordings. But in his appearance, his repertory choices, his idiosyncratic technique and his bold interpretive ideas, he is something of a rebel.
He wore tight black leather pants and a contemporary black shirt and jacket, which, with his trim physique, slick black hair and pale face, gave him the look of a Polish punker. At his request, the house lights were kept unusually dark.
He began this recital with Bach's Overture in the French Style in B minor, a long (30 minutes), formidable and seldom-played suite. His performance was full of integrity yet boldly personal. In the opening movement, an elaborate overture, he brought a deliberately jerky feeling to the dotted-note rhythms and tossed off ornaments with a snappish quality. It was like a modern reclaiming of the French Baroque style Bach evokes. Yet every contrapuntal line and inner voice was articulate and audible. Though he played with great colorings, his sound had a slightly metallic luster, clearly intentional, not just in the breathless Gigue but even in the subdued Sarabande.
For an artist with such a modern sensibility, it's curious he has not prominently played works by living composers. But he has championed the music of the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, who died in 1937. He followed the Bach with an audacious, steely, brilliant performance of Szymanowski's three-movement "Masques" (1915-16), music that made the composer seem the Polish Scriabin.
After intermission he turned to another Pole, Chopin, first offering hauntingly restrained accounts of Three Mazurkas, Op. 63, and concluding with the daunting Sonata in B minor. Here his cool, mystical and analytic approach took adjusting to. For example, the scherzolike second movement was played with almost Bachian clarity and scant pedal. It seemed a chastisement to performances that gloss over this scampering music with slick virtuosity and smoothness. The poignant slow movement was daringly ruminative and completely unsentimental. The hard-driving finale made up in inexorableness what it lacked in sweep and warmth. I wouldn't want to hear the sonata played this way often, but I'll never forget this fascinating performance. Nor, it seemed, will the audience, who ardently cheered this provocative pianist.