In his lunchtime recital, Polish pianist Peter Jablonski selected a programme that clearly included some his personal favourites. The result was an affectionate performance that felt less like a public recital and more like sharing the enjoyment of music with a friend.

© Mats Bäcker
© Mats Bäcker

Haydn’s Sonata in D major may have only had two movements, but texturally it is conceived on a much grander scale than many of the earlier sonatas. The first movement was characterised by a dotted rhythm that never felt agitated, but was instead performed with transparent ease throughout. The energy came later in the development with brilliant demisemiquavers and meaty left hand octaves in the weightier minor key section. In the recapitulation of the main theme, Haydn’s characteristic embellishments had a delightfully improvisatory feel.

Jablonski fully captured the humorous gestures of the finale, (marked ‘As fast a possible’), clearly relishing the abruptness of Haydn’s unexpected cadences in a deliberate bid to unsettle the listener. After the rapid concluding passage he turned to face the audience with a gentle smirk as if to say, ‘That’s it!’

Next we were plunged into a much darker musical canvas with Liszt’s Second Ballade. This involved an almost Schumannesque struggle between two opposing musical characters, the stormy rumble of the opening followed by the sunny lyrical theme that emerges once the clouds have parted. In his programme notes, Jablonski explained that he feels this piece is unjustly neglected, and I am inclined to agree with him. If nothing else, it is a remarkable exploration of piano sonority, from the blurred chromatic opening the sweeping scales of the climax (here Jablonski opted for Liszt’s alternate, more challenging version). There was plenty of bite in the brittle march theme, while he luxuriated in the more languid passages, in particular the central tenor theme rivalling the famous Liebstraume for its tenderness.

The three Chopin Mazurkas were well chosen for their contrasting sound-worlds. Here Jablonski was most convincing – his performance had a charming lilt and rhythmic flexibility that brought out the true Mazurka character. Op. 6 No. 2 in C# minor was notable for its strong folk flavour, with modal inflections and bass drone in the introduction. This rustic quality was also evident in the stomping C major mazurka that followed, while Op. 17 No. 4 in A minor had an altogether more impressionistic character with its right hand filigree passagework.

Bernstein’s arrangement of Copland’s orchestral piece ‘El Salon Mexico’ is a challenging work on first listen, not least because it contains many false starts before the dance really gets going. There was a steady warm up, beginning with cluster chords in the extreme bass register before the popular song of the trumpet and irregular Latin rhythms started to move with increasing energy. The piece concluded with a final bang of the drum as Jablonski dropped both forearms onto the keys with a resounding crash.

We were treated to an encore of one more Chopin Mazurka, Op. 68 No. 2 in A minor. This was a real gem of a piece, spun out of a single elegiac theme, alternately in major and minor incarnations. Jablonski’s quietly flickering trills gave this piece an understated elegance, once again reminding us of Chopin’s genius as a miniaturist.