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Concert review: Pianist Piotr Anderszewski makes powerfully individual case for J.S. Bach

By John Terauds on November 25, 2012

Pianist Piotr Anderszewski played a remarkable all-Bach recital at Koerner Hall on Sunday afternoon. It was one of those concerts that might incite would-be pianists to run home, pull the music off the shelf and then collapse in tears at the gap between printed page and what they just heard.

Anderszewski dipped into the deep well of lyrical pieces by J.S. Bach written during the years leading up to his appointment as music director in Leipzig, when his daily attention shifted to sacred music. We heard three popular suites, the French No. 5, and the English Nos 3 and 6, as well as the Italian Concerto.

The Paris-based pianist made this music his own in a remarkable show of interpretive skill that was at once true to the originals, yet took the pieces to places that might have made purists uncomfortable.

This was not Bach that sounded like this or that great pianist’s. This was not Bach played on a period-accurate instrument. Rather, this was the work of a 21st century artist using every means at his disposal to make the music come alive on (a particularly fine example of) a modern concert grand piano.

Anderszewski’s approach was consistent in its idiosyncracy. He chose to highlight counterpoint at certain points in the music but not in others. He use a very wide dynamic range and accentuated contrasts in repeated sections. He applied the sustaining and una corda pedals liberally, frequently blurring textures a bit, but never completely losing the music’s overall clarity.

At times, the roots of each movement in courtly dance forms was accentuated. At others, Anderszewski drifted off into a sort of musical reverie, especially in the slow Sarabandes.

No note, phrase or ornament was unaccounted for in his conception of how these pieces should sound.

Throughout, Anerszewski was utterly persuasive. He played with such intensity and conviction that, no matter whether I agreed with what he was doing, I couldn’t imagine the music sounding any other way in that moment.

That is the mark of a truly great performance, the kind we remember for years. Its power comes not from agreement or some sort of conformity to rules and traditions. It comes, rather, from being swept up and away into something larger and more powerful than any single person can usually create.

It has been a long time since Anderszewski has played a solo recital in Toronto, and I can’t wait for the next.

John Terauds

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