Bringing to a close this season of Music Up Close concerts, Nikolai Demidenko delighted a packed Haddington Town House with a programme of Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt.

© Kirill Bachkirov
© Kirill Bachkirov

The programme opened with two much loved Beethoven works: Piano Sonata in C minor, 'Pathétique' Op. 13 and Piano Sonata in C# minor, 'Moonlight' Op. 27 No. 2. The beginning of the Pathétique features as many Beethovenian ear-grabbing elements as one could wish for in an opening item: instant tension; gravitas - his personal key of C minor; frequent pauses, making even those who know the piece intimately wonder what is coming next. Lest we misunderstand the emotional intent of the piece, it might be worth noting that the term pathétique implies 'appealing to the feelings' as opposed simply to depicting the downtrodden. The power and determination of the Allegro movements suggests the very opposite and this was projected very convincingly in the playing. Although the term 'moonlight' wasn't Beethoven's, its ambiguous associations seem to align well with the ambivalent harmony in the opening Adagio sostenuto. Demidenko's handling of the unsettled passages of diminished chords, with their unpredictable outcomes, seemed to resonate with uncertain times – Beethoven's and ours. The airy lightness of the following Allegretto was a welcome tonic before the more edgy and magnificently played Presto agitato brought about resounding applause.

Elegant, economic programming allowed the three Chopin pieces to highlight his command of four genres. The first and most extensive of these, Polonaise-fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61, mirrored the opening of the Pathétique in its alternation of rhythmic and arrhythmic. Through adventurous harmony and formal innovation, it transformed the aristocratic origins of the Polonaise into something much more urgent and alive. I felt that Demidenko got right to the heart of this. The lyrically wistful Impromptu No. 2 in F# minor, Op. 36 - beautifully rendered - led us into the Barcarolle in F# major, Op. 60, in which Demidenko clearly illustrated yet another dimension of this ambassador of the piano.

Chopin, a reluctant performer, was outlived by his altogether more rock and roll contemporary Franz Liszt to the tune of 36 years. In Ballade No. 1 in D flat major, Demidenko showed us the more reflective side of Liszt's nature. The Hungarian Rhapsody, for piano, No. 13 in A minor – whose closing dance-like, virtuosic fireworks elicited many spontaneous cheers from audience – was an altogether more flamboyant affair. Employing improvisatory passages built on the Hungarian gypsy scale along with folk melodies, this was a truly exotic work, performed with great flair. The closing programmed work, Concert Paraphrase on Verdi's 'Rigolletto' was as dramatic as one could hope an opera-inspired item to be. Relying on extreme textural variation, which only a virtuoso could survive, this was a wonderful closing item and brought an eruption of applause from a very appreciative audience.

Demidenko graced the audience with two encores: Chopin's reflective Nocturne in C# minor, Op. 27 No. 1 and a brisk, harmonically impish Sonata by Scarlatti, bringing down the curtain on a wonderful season of concerts.