Talent is hard to define but easy to respond to, and Piotr Anderszewski has evoked a practically universal response of grateful appreciation. He is a personal pianist with his own voice, innate musical instincts, intensity, originality, and the ability to hold a listener's attention from bar to bar for an entire recital. This recital isn't as strong in originality as his breakthrough Cd of the Diabelli Var., nor does he push the envelope or take the kind of risks he took with that thorny work. Everything else is in place, however.
Bach on the piano still invites comparison with Glenn Gould, and his crystalline, precise translation of the harpsichord is widely imitated. Anderszewski is devoted to Bach, and he has found his own way. To say that it is warmer, more romantic, and less harpsichord-like than Gould is being too general. What captures your attention is the way that Anderszewski balances counterpoint with the melodic line. His two hands move with complete independence but also manage to subtly join when he wants them to, creating a through-line while maintaining the constant regularity that Bach's idiom calls for. He inserts shades of emotion - not all Bach keyboardists do - to relieve the continual demands on the intellect that dense counterpoint makes. This is no longer music where we accept a strong show of personality, but one does detect that Anderszewski has one. The sum of these elements is captivating, and even someone like me who spends very little time with Bach's keyboard works can hear the English Suite no. 6 with as much emotional satisfaction as hearing Beethoven.
In this case, Beethoven enters through the challenge of Op. 110, a sonata so wrapped in mystique that an accomplished reading isn't enough; one wants a performance that distills the composer's complex intentions and speaks in his multi-dimensional language. Anderszewski is rare among today's pianists in accepting the whole challenge. He states the tender theme of the Andante cantabile with unusually sweet softness, using as much expressive rubato as a pianist from the golden age. Beethoven writes an immediate buildup that leaves tenderness behind for power and strength. Anderszewski makes this sound very natural rather than a lurch. Playing with inwardness and total authority at the same time, he evokes a sense of the otherworldly, as the Gramophone reviewer notes, and seems modern while reminding us of great interpreters from the past.
That is how the best Beethoven interpreters work, by being part of a linked chain while adding their own contribution. I'd also point out how Anderszewski seems at ease with the monumental demands of the Fuga, at once smoothing out its late-period eccentricity at the same time that he does justice to Beethoven's strange eruptions of near violence, as in the concise tempest of the Allegro molto. We are taken into the world of the Diabellis with courage and bold acceptance of inexplicable mood swings. The result is exactly what this sonata needs, a totally engrossing reading that stays long in the mind. (The under-the-lid placement of the microphones, or so it sounds, delivers thrilling bass lines, too.)
The Webern Variations Op. 27 are the end point of what Beethoven began, turning defiant Romanticism and its boundary-breaking expressions into terse signifiers, like a novel being turned into a few telegrams, or all of Shakespeare condensed into into a hour. The test for the pianist is to let the audience in on Webern's condensed idiom while overcoming the ear's resistance to atonality. The whole work lasts only 6 min. and is as enigmatic as ever, but Anderszewski seems to have every note under his fingers.
Leaving the Webern under a question mark, the rest of this recital is hugely impressive.