The past two seasons have seen the Chopin Society UK celebrate the composer’s bicentenary and its own 40th anniversary. The programme of monthly concerts that it puts on continues to feature a roster of well-known artists alongside those that deserve to be better known. The Yugoslav-born French-American pianist Eugen Indjic falls into the latter category. This is despite an impressive international career begun in the 1960s that has seen him collaborate with artists of calibre such as Giuseppe Sinopoli, Valery Gergiev, Rafael Kubelik and Erich Leinsdorf. Emil Gilels called him “a unique and inspired artist”, whilst Arthur Rubinstein thought Indjic “a world-class pianist of rare musical and artistic perfection”. No wonder, then, that Westminster Cathedral Hall was filled to bursting point for his recital of Chopin, Schumann and Liszt.

Eugen Indjic © Marek Ostas
Eugen Indjic
© Marek Ostas

The all-Chopin first half opened with the Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 no. 1. Indjic’s approach was measured in tempo, balanced and clearly shaded, which allowed the music’s passion to emerge effectively. His performance of the Ballade no. 4 was marked out by an elegance of touch and phrasing that managed to effectively balance the grand overall sweep of musical argument with filigree details.

Indjic next presented four mazurkas as a representative sample of Chopin’s collective essay in the genre. The B flat minor Mazurka Op. 24 no. 4 was aristocratic in tone and outward guise, though I missed a little in the way of communicative warmth. The Mazurka Op. 30 no. 2 continued with the spirit of slight detachment about it, though it was effortlessly shaded. The fourth piece from the same set highlighted Indjic’s abilities to explore thematic transitions to useful effect, though grandeur dominated due to the slight favouring of the left-hand part. The F sharp minor Mazurka Op. 59 no. 3, with the bare-obsessiveness of its repeated patterns, can seem a touch interminable – but Indjic brought just enough variation of tempo and nuance of shading to sustain interest.

By way of contrast, Indjic launched into the Scherzo no. 3’s volley of octaves with some relish. All the more pity, then, that the chorale section which should calm the tempest did not quite take hold as it might have done.

Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze is a set of eighteen short untitled pieces that form a dialogue between the characters of the impetuous Florestan and the poetically lyrical Eusebius. The sense of dialogue came through strongly in Indjic’s playing, but the interpretation went deeper than that to distil an almost philosophical discourse on the nature of the human condition in sound. Two aspects of human character play themselves out in relation to one another, but if one sought any bias towards one or the other from Indjic then hardly any could be detected. As a performer he gave little away facially whilst playing and his technique and movement was pared to the essential, eliminating the superfluous to a large degree. There was obvious relish in the Florestan-centred pieces, such as the fourth one, “Ungeduldig” (“Impatiently”), which was played in a manner that can only be described as driven, or the tenth, “Balladenmäßig sehr rasch” (“Very brisk, in the style of a ballade”), which was fulsome in its tone and impelled forward with dexterity and purpose, yet not without grace. This contrasted with Eusebius’ movements, for example the dreamy second movement, “Innig” (“Intimate”), or the apt near-vocalise brought to the fourteenth movement, “Zart und singend” (“Delicate and song-like”). Heard as whole sequence, Indjic’s approach never lost sight of the innate Romantic sensibility of Schumann’s writing.

Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz no. 1 concluded the programme. The cunning devilishness inherent in the details of nuance and form presented few issues for Indjic interpretively and, much to the audience’s delight, Lisztian excess left its lasting and – it must be said – slightly cheap impression. For me, however, Schumann was still very much preoccupying my thoughts.