In a concert celebrating 25 years since his Wigmore Hall debut, Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski presented a programme of music with which he is most at home – works by Bach, Schumann and Szymanowski, with an encore by Janáček. By his own admission, Anderszewski “cannot play just anything” and chooses to perform only those composers he feels a strong urge to play. By the standards of most pianists active today his repertoire might be regarded as “narrow”, but it is this limited focus which results in playing which is both fastidious (without fussiness) and spontaneous, and such spontaneity is clearly the result of a long association with the music coupled with a patient, thoughtful study of it.

Piotr Anderszewski © K Miura
Piotr Anderszewski
© K Miura
Bach’s keyboard Partitas were his first published instrumental works. Described on the title page as “a keyboard practice”, these suites of preludes, dances and “other Galanteries” were also intended as a “pleasurable diversion of music lovers” and they remain amongst some of Bach’s most popular keyboard music. The Partita no. 6 was not the last of the six pieces to be composed, though it sits at the end of the collection. As Anderszewski said in his BBC Radio 3 interview, the decision to open his concert with this work was “not a question of numbers”, it’s the content of the music”. The Partita, in darkly serious E minor, is grand and substantial and the Toccata was given a high-octane treatment, its opening flourishes ripped out of the keyboard, really emphasizing the definition of the work’s title, before the music moved into an elegantly-voiced fugue. By contrast, the subsequent movements revealed their details more delicately. In the handling of the repeats (which were observed in all movements of this and the first Partita) some pianists will do standard things (quieter dynamic range second time around, for example), but Anderszewski makes them sound newly-wrought, spontaneous and improvisatory. The ornaments too had an extemporaneous flavour, and not one sounded contrived. The cumulative effect was to make the music seem fresh and new.

This pianist is a fine advocate for Bach played on the piano, not just for these details, but also in his understanding of the harpsichordist’s treatment of phrasing and articulation. His sound is not dry: on the contrary, it is glossy and warm, and his tasteful pedalling and acute awareness of the rhythmic vitality of the dance music recalled the crystalline textures of the harpsichord. Anderszewski is also alert to the intimacy of Bach: the inner movements of both Partitas were tender and noble, with a muted dynamic range which had the whole audience listening intently. This concentrated effect was enhanced by the use of low lighting, so that one’s attention was more fully focused on the music rather than performer.

Schumann is another composer whose music Anderszewski feels a special urge to play. He cites its vulnerability and sincerity, both of which were evident in his reading of Papillons, one of the first pieces Schumann composed. This suite of short pieces traces the tumult of a dance on carnival night, and contrasts great gusts of energy with more introspective movements, which reveal the schizophrenic nature of Schumann’s personality. The rather rambunctious reading of this suite brought a childlike innocence to the music which was humorous and touching. In the second work by Schumann of the evening, the Ghost Variations, composed in 1854 just before Schumann committed himself to the Endenich mental hospital, the composer’s fragility and melancholy was revealed in Anderszewski’s haunting sound world. At times the music seemed suspended, as if it might slip away at any moment.

Szymanowski’s Metopes is a triptych of impressionistic pieces evoking bas-reliefs in Doric architecture which tell the story of Odysseus’s long homeward voyage following the Trojan Wars. The uninitiated could be forgiven for mistaking these for works by Ravel, Debussy or even early Messiaen in their layers of sound, showers of notes and shimmering textures. Vividly portrayed and subtly pedaled, they were rich in character and imagery, their technical challenges seeming to dissolve in their exotic colours and startling harmonies.

In offering Book 2 of Janáček’s On An Overgrown Path, one had the sense of an artist who had no wish to show off, merely to share the music he cared about with the audience.