The Croatian pianist Dejan Lazić first came to my attention, perhaps for the wrong reasons, when I read about his 2014 fracas with The Washington Post over the “right to be forgotten” in Google searches. He asked for a review from 2010, which he felt was unfair, to be removed. The incident sparked a lively debate across the networks about whether artists should respond to negative reviews or make such requests, and whether critics and reviewers need to be more careful about what they say. To me, it was a rather neat example of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”: I read about Lazić, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to hear him live.

Dejan Lazić © Susie Knoll
Dejan Lazić
© Susie Knoll
I missed his Queen Elizabeth Hall concert in winter 2014 so I was pleased to see him on the roster of the Wigmore Hall’s lunchtime concerts. And how glad I am that I decided to go to the concert, for he presented an imaginative programme of music: two greats of German music – Haydn and Schumann – were juxtaposed with dances by Shostakovich and Lazić himself, all of which revealed his strengths.

Anyone who makes me smile in Haydn gets my applause and Lazić succeeded in spades, bringing wit and humour to Haydn’s Sonata in E flat major, Hob. XVI:52, the earliest of the composer’s last three sonatas, written for the pianist Therese Jansen – no mean pianist herself if the complex writing in this work is anything to go by. Of course, Haydn’s wit is all there in the score, waiting to be found and revealed, but it takes a pianist with both chutzpah and sensitivity in order for the wit to feel spontaneous. Lazić began with a flourish, an arpeggiated chord ripping out of the keyboard with much gestural flamboyance. For a moment, I thought the gestures might obscure the music, but in fact they served it well, enabling Lazić to bring crisp articulation and a pristine nimbleness to the music, particularly in the rapid passages. This was combined with a clear sense of pacing, a touch of romantic rubato, a clear sense of the darkness and light in the music, and some fine voicing which highlighted both the pianistic qualities of Haydn’s writing (the piano was undergoing major developments in Haydn’s lifetime and he capitalised on this in his piano music) as well as orchestral textures.

The Three Fantastic Dances Op.5 are Shostakovich’s earliest published work and were written when he was a precocious teenage student. The pieces are short, redolent of Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives in their brevity and contrasting styles, textures and moods. Lazić’s precise articulation and keen sense of timing brought these pieces to life with a colourful clarity, and they provided an enjoyable interlude between the works by Haydn and Schumann.

Schumann’s Waldszenen (Forest Scenes) were composed in two weeks at the end of December 1848 and the beginning of January 1849, and he continued to revise this suite of nine pieces until September 1850. Schumann found inspiration for the work in the densely forested landscapes, both welcoming and menacing, which lie at the heart of German nationalism and the Romantic movement. In the more lyrical movements (“Eintritt”, “Einsame Blumen”, “Abschied”) Lazić’s sensitivity to the melody was evident, while the more lively movements had rhythmic bite and a bright tone.

Such rhythmic energy was even more evident in Lazić’s own composition, Three Istrian Dances, inspired by the folk music of the Istrian peninsula of Croatia and the sopile, a traditional Istrian woodwind instrument widely used in the folklore of the area. Fleeting and characterful, the three dances segued into one another, the middle one rich in Scriabinesque sensuality and exoticism.

For an encore, Lazić returned to Haydn, the final movement of the Piano Sonata no. 60 played with wit and brio.

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