Jan Lisiecki at the Bristol Proms

The Canadian pianist's 'purity to passion' programme

Jan Lisiecki at the Bristol Proms
Jan Lisiecki at the Bristol Proms

When Jan Lisiecki appeared at the inaugural Bristol Proms two years ago, his Chopin recital was largely scuppered by an out-of-tune piano, lasers and dry ice. This year was a classier affair: he was upgraded to an in-tune (how generous) Steinway, while projected on a large screen at the back of the stage was artily shot black-and-white, then colour live footage of Lisiecki and his piano. This ‘filmed from all angles’ idea, executed by two cameramen not quite hidden in the wings of Bristol Old Vic’s auditorium, was a repeat from his 2013 appearance. Unlike the lasers, it’s one of the more successful visual experiments from a festival intent on sprucing up the presentation of classical music.

At the age of 20, Lisiecki is already a musician of considerable maturity and poise. He might still look like a schoolboy, dressed down in jacket-less black tie, but he has a confident manner, speaking with authority and amiability to the audience about his programme. ‘From purity to passion’ started with JS Bach, moved through Mozart, Schubert and Chopin, and ended with Rachmaninov. Fighting the dry acoustic of the 18th-century auditorium, he nevertheless made the piano sing in Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor and some of the Schubert (two Impromptus), but a brittleness shivered through moments of the Mozart A major Sonata, K331.

It was Chopin that brought Jan Lisiecki to international attention with a recording of the Etudes in 2013. And in this Prom, while not quite every effect came off in the elusive F sharp minor Nocturne Op. 48 No. 2, he got to the heart of Chopin’s grave Nocturne in C minor Op. 48 No. 1. Bach echoed here, as it did too in the Schubert F minor Impromptu Op. 142 No. 1 – one of the few illuminations of links between repertoire that this not altogether satisfying ‘journey through time with piano music’, as Liseicki described it, offered. I couldn’t hear Bach in the following Rachmaninov, as he suggested there might be, but something quite different: his elegance and unsentimentality made the Elegie all the blacker than any sort of wallowing would have done, and the bold gestures of the C sharp minor Prelude all the more powerful.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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