Pianist Piotr Anderszewski’s recital at the Barbican Centre had a surprise up the sleeve even before it started. As the audience entered the hall, Anderszewski, in casual dress, was already on the stage, sitting on a sofa placed by the piano and reading a book with a mug of tea in his hand. It was as if we were invited into his living room! Anderszewski is known to be a bit of a maverick, but this was certainly a novel approach. Did he want to create a relaxed and intimate space for his programme of Bach and Schumann, and also create a closer relationship between him and the audience? During the interval, he came back on the stage with a new mug of tea, and he spent ten minutes or so watching the audience. I wonder what he made of us!

Rob Workman
Rob Workman

Anyway, after another sip of his tea, Anderszewski walked up to the piano and without any fuss, he began the recital with Bach’s English Suite No. 5. His approach to Bach is more personal and less austere than fellow specialists Andras Schiff or Angela Hewitt. The Prelude was bold and sometimes quite aggressive, and he brought out the counterpoint with clarity. I felt that the Allemande was played with too much legato, but the Sarabande was outstanding for the control of the soft tone as well as for the inventive and delicate ornamentation in the repeated sections. He excelled in the final Gigue, emphasizing the chromaticism and the jagged rhythms with gusto.

Anderszewski followed the Bach suite with two Schumann rarities, which he has also recently recorded. It is intriguing that he chose two works that are least virtuosic in Schumann’s piano repertoire – I felt that Anderszewski was trying to take us on an inner journey of Schumann’s piano music. Six Canonic Etudes, op. 56, originally written for pedal piano (a short-lived nineteenth century invention), were Schumann’s attempt to explore Bachian counterpoint. Yet the harmony is undeniably Schumann, and Anderszweski emphasized the harmonic intimacy of No.2 and No.3, while highlighting the rhythmic quirkiness of No.5.

Gesänge der Frühe, op. 133, is a late work, composed three months before Schumann’s attempted suicide. Sometimes meandering, sometimes reminiscent of the brilliance of his earlier piano works, it requires a deep empathy to the composer’s inner world, as was shown in this performance. Anderszewski captured the changing mood of each piece and there was a wonderful silence at the end, from which he moved on seamlessly to the final Bach offering.

The large-scale Prelude of the sixth English Suite was rendered with strong rhythmic articulation, often highlighting the bass line. Perhaps he could have brought out a more dance-like feel in the Allemande and Courante, but the Gavottes were lively with playful embellishments in Gavotte II and the relentless energy in the concluding Gigue was breathtaking.

Anderszewski responded to the enthusiastic audience with two encores: a buoyant account of Schumann’s Novelletten No. 5 was followed by the intimate Sarabande from Bach’s French Suite No. 5. A perfect ending to this thought-provoking recital.