sat 13/04/2024

Boris Giltburg, Wigmore Hall review - epic heaven and hell | reviews, news & interviews

Boris Giltburg, Wigmore Hall review - epic heaven and hell

Boris Giltburg, Wigmore Hall review - epic heaven and hell

Scriabin, Schumann and Chopin at their most chameleonic

Boris Giltburg, artist in residence at the Wigmore HallWigmore Hall Trust

With rapid, sleight-of-hand flicks between calm assurance and demonic agitation, Boris Giltburg turned in a coherent and epic recital that won’t be surpassed in 2024. Most pianists would quake simply at the thought of performing the four Chopin Scherzos in sequence; Giltburg set them up with phenomenal insights into Scriabin and Schumann.

He went in deep with perfect space around the noble beginnings of Scriabin’s relatively early (1890s) Second Sonata, that side of the composer very much, in Boris Pasternak’s words, “as tranquil and lucent as God resting from his labours on the seventh day”. The turbulent sequel in the two-movement work seems like a lesser being, but Giltburg’s evenness at high speed set the tone for the evening’s many transcendental whirls. It certainly connected with the first of Schumann’s Kreisleriana

Schumann Kreisleriana with dedication to ChopinI’ve always been transfixed by the contrasting nobility of the second’s main idea, perhaps at the expense of what follows, and it’s not always been easy to make sense of Schumann’s homage to Hoffmann’s variegated Kapellmeister Kreisler (perhaps if we knew more of the exact programme, one would, more readily). But having conducted the space between those numbers so eloquently, and picking up the change of mood with profound musicality every time, Giltburg never let the attention slip, with constant surprises (especially the harmonized bass treatment of the romantic turn in the fourth piece). For some, this will have been too extreme, but what is Schumann, especially in this amazing carnival of changing temperaments, if not that?

One could have left deeply nourished by this first half. But the Chopin carried us, at times, even higher. Unlike the four Ballades, which can be played more or less continuously (as indeed Giltburg performed them in February 2023), each Scherzo demands applause; a “wow” from the gentleman in front of me at the end of the first, so Mephistophelian in its outer portions that it hit one in the gut, seemed likely to be followed by reverent silence, but Giltburg stood, not to solicit a bigger response but because it made sense. There was still a real progress from darkness to light across the course of the four, spanning a decade of Chopin’s short but rich musical life.

High speeds could have meant callow virtuosity, but for me this pianist always gives the right space when needed. Intimations of heaven come in the chorale theme of the third scherzo, the one most of us know less well, flights of angels descending to meet it; no hint of potential Lisztian tinselliness here. And the fourth nobly sealed the deal, Giltburg's chosen Fazioli piano helping with the full rainbow of colours (and none of the twang on sustaining-pedal release you too often get on the house Steinways). After all that grandeur, though, we needed something relatively simple, and it was to a reverent hall loud in the intensity of its silence that Giltburg gave the perfect, if unconnected, encore of Debussy’s “Clair de lune”.

Watch Boris Giltburg's previous Chopin-plus recital at the Wigmore Hall in December 2023

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