Piotr Anderszewski seated himself on a chair without any fuss and eased into the Allemande of Bach’s French Suite no. 5 in G with a soft touch. His rounded notes, subdued in the left hand, not too sparkly in the right, were as far as you could get from the quirky, angular style of Glenn Gould, who rules in Toronto, his home turf. However, as Anderszewski’s hands danced in imitation of each other through the Courante into the famous Sarabande, preternatural tenderness, heartbreak, and a soulful magic cast a glamour over the hall. Each repetition of the theme compelled the audience deeper into a pin-drop hush. The subsequent movements developed a kind of storyline through witty rhythms, strange phrasings – some dark, some faceted like crystal. The Gigue burst from the gate and tore for the finish at a breathtaking gallop.

Piotr Anderszewski  ©  Askonas Holt
Piotr Anderszewski
© Askonas Holt

The Prelude of the English Suite no. 3 in G minor, with its silent-movie chase opening continued the sense of drama that Anderszewski brings. Here he balanced the the clarity of Bach’s counterpoint with warm, bucolic colourings and contrasting dynamics that conveyed a sense of fantasy. Anderszewski’s narrative through the middle movements takes a decidedly Romantic turn, into the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Chopin’s wounded heart. The Gigue rises from a heart-skip-a-beat rhythm, along riveting contrapuntal lines, to a thundering close.

After intermission, Anderszewski introduced some surprising touches into the well established domain of his soft-toned approach. The Italian Concerto opened sounding close the the harpsichord style of piano-playing we associate with Gould. The Andante had a deep, soulful, feeling. This Anderszewski accomplished by controlling the tone of the right-hand line so it became transparent and allowed the left hand to come through in a way that was both witty and tender. I thought of Mozart. The Presto was perky, highly melodic, and confirmed the impression that Anderszewski’s interpretation of the entire piece was well designed.

It goes almost without saying that Anderszewski, known for his perfectionism and insistence on being in control, has shaped an overall narrative for each work, and for the recital as a whole. The power and the subtlety of Bach are displayed on a scale of graduating intensity that increases as the program develops.

The English Suite no. 6 in D minor was Anderszewski’s showpiece, powerful and vivid beyond anything else in the program. The large-scale Prelude was fast, the notes issuing just this side of a blur but still clear. The Courante ran like an electric current. The Sarabande moved at a stately pace, the intense drama of it ornamented with subtle shifts in tempo and dynamics. Again I felt precipitated into the magic world of Mozart, this time the Piano Concerto no. 21. The first Gavotte possessed a dark sensuality. In the second Gavotte, Anderszewski’s right hand danced in glass slippers, the softly rounded notes of his left making a chameleon display of muted colours that spread like Homer’s rosy-fingered dawn. The Gigue, with its beat of Keystone Cops car-chase excitement, brought the mood back to earth, where we could feel the soul of Bach at ease in its good-humoured majesty.

Anderszewski pacified the crowd’s excitement by performing as an encore the lulling tones of his strangely coloured and mesmerizing account of one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. He surely fulfilled Count Keyserlingk’s desire to have from Bach to have a work of “such a soft and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights.” Anderszewski’s Goldberg also aptly brought to mind some line from Yeats that perhaps also encompass Bach’s way of employing wakefulness: “to sing / To lords and ladies of Byzantium / Of what is past, or passing, or to come.”

Piotr AnderszewskiStanley Fefferman reviews Piotr Anderszewski playing an all Bach program at Koerner Hall in Toronto.5