London’s Wigmore Hall, famous for its elegant concert hall and outstanding acoustics, has become synonymous with exceptional piano music. Having played host to a number of celebrated performers and composers, from Arthur Rubinstein to Saint-Saëns, Benjamin Britten to Joshua Bell, Wigmore Hall also ushers in today’s latest classical stars.

© Eric Richmond
© Eric Richmond

One such star is Boris Giltburg. Performing pieces by Chopin (including the ever-popular Ballades), Prokofiev and Ravel, the entirety of Tuesday night’s concert demanded a high level of expressivity and technical skill. Throughout the evening, Giltburg performed brilliantly, achieving keyboard mastery to match the acoustical grandeur that echoed off Wigmore’s majestic walls. Yet despite his obvious talent, Giltburg was just short of the high level of expressivity that goes hand in hand with Chopin’s romantic works. The pace of each ballade felt disjointed, the rhythm being either too liberal or fast-paced, causing intensely passionate melodies to lose their luster. Particularly in Ballade No. 4 in F minor, the coda—although performed with technical mastery—lacked that key moment of anticipatory silence just before the performer dives into the coda with robust ferocity and passion.

Giltburg’s vigorous playing proved more effective in the second half of the concert. Performing Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 6 in A Major, which was written in 1939 and performed in 1940, the height of Soviet-German aggression, Giltburg’s command of the keyboard—as shown through his control of fierce chromaticism and stormy rhythms throughout the piece—illuminated Prokofiev’s parody of a march perfectly. Similarly, Giltburg aptly performed with a frenetic intensity, capturing the violent and aggressive nature of Ravel’s La Valse, a piece more akin to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring than a Viennese waltz.

An incredibly challenging programme to perform, Giltburg executed Chopin, Prokofiev and Ravel masterfully, delivering an enchanting Tuesday evening to the audience at Wigmore Hall.