On August 15th, pianist Nelson Goerner played the opening recital at the 16th Chopin and His Europe in Warsaw. I had had the pleasure of hearing Goerner in recital several times, and yesterday’s performance only reinforced my certainty that he is indeed a master pianist and artist.
Goerner opened the concert with Beethoven’s Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 81a (Les Adieux). The chords of the opening captured my attention immediately, with the pianist beautifully playing the horn-like descending chords. In those brief sixteen measures, Goerner lavished the music with a wide range of sound colours. In the Allegro, he effectively highlighted the shape of the arch-like opening theme, as well as the constantly shifting moods of the movement. In the second movement (Abwesenheit), he brought out the bleakness of the opening measures and the warmth and sense of yearning of the second theme. Goerner played the opening run of the third movement (Das Wiedersehen) with supreme confidence, rushing us headlong into the joys of the opening theme.
In the 15 Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme, Op. 35 – the so-called ‘Eroica’ Variations - that followed, we can surely say that Beethoven exploited (in the best sense of the word) every compositional possibility of that simple theme. In yesterday’s performance, the performer took the composer’s notes and recreated this masterpiece for us by exploiting every pianistic and musical challenge laid down by the composer, bringing out the humour, bravura, orchestral effects, as well as the unique character of each variation. In the final fugue, Goerner successfully navigated the fine balance between clarity of line and the forward surge of the music.
The Ballade in A-flat major, Op. 47, was the only offering by Chopin in yesterday’s performance. To my ears, it was an introspective performance that highlighted the structural integrity of this large work, without sacrificing the beauty and colours of Chopin’s writing.
In Liszt’s Valse oubliée, S. 215, Goerner brought out the charm as well as the quirkiness of this miniature masterpiece, giving us sparkling passagework that was crystalline in its clarity. In the Rhapsodie Espagnole, S. 254, Goerner did not draw my attention to the virtuosity the works demand – which is considerable – but emphasized the dignity and nobility inherent in this music. His performance of this Liszt work reminded me of the title of one of Alfred Brendel’s essays on Liszt, where he referred to Liszt’s “nobility of spirit”. This nobility of spirit was certainly clearly apparent in Goerner’s Liszt interpretation.
Goerner’s encore was Paderewski’s Nocturne in B-flat major, Op. 16, No. 4. Kevin Kenner introduced me to this charming work when he played it, also as an encore, after his Vancouver recital last year. Kenner applied a lighter touch to this music, and the music came across as beautifully limpid and delicate. I thought that the depth of sound Goerner employed when playing this music gave it an extra dimension as well as a more velvety sound colour.
I was very envious of the (sparsely spaced) audience in Warsaw, who had the privilege of not only witnessing this masterful performance, but also being at a concert hall, hearing this music live. I was really very much bowed over by Goerner’s performance yesterday. I am grateful that he is a young man still, which means we can expect many more years of continued artistic growth, as well as many more memorable performances from this artist.