Nelson Goerner, Wigmore Hall, London – review

The Wigmore’s claim to present “the finest artists in the chamber music world” is no idle boast, but it is in the nature of a seven-nights-a-week, 48-weeks-a-year business that there should be peaks and troughs – and a mass in between. The real gauge of standards is what happens on an “average” night. Is it above what can be heard elsewhere, or the same? In a week that found London musical life in post-Proms/pre-season limbo, Wednesday’s recital by Nelson Goerner offered a useful test. The Argentine pianist is anything but “average”. He is unquestionably a master of the keyboard, but he is not starry and did not sell out the hall. Yet his recital was of such concentration and intellectual control – the latter holding in check a powerful temperament – that the musical substance exceeded that of several more glittering pianists who regularly play here.

Like his programme – early Mozart, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, late Schubert – Goerner’s performance had many old-fashioned virtues. Despite an approach to tempo and phrasing that was anything but strict, the music always unfolded within an overarching sense of line and structure. His range of colour and dynamics brought to mind a one-man orchestra, capable of explosive power and massive sonority, but it was used sparingly, generating all the more impact when it came. As for technique, there are few pianists who wear their virtuosity so easily.

Goerner’s trump card is his temperamental drive, a stereotypical Latin quality that is better matched to Lisztian grandeur than Mozartian grace. Mozart’s E flat sonata K282, the one that unusually begins with an adagio, gave the evening a subdued start. The opening movement was studied, the double minuet crisp and à point, the final allegro a shade on the brusque side. If there are depths to this music, Goerner was not interested in probing them.

He was more at home in Schumann’s impetuous extremes, his spring-coil attack unleashing the music’s manic, feverish qualities without neglecting its interwoven planes. His reading of Schubert’s B flat sonata D960 after the interval had a concise expressive power, eschewing doleful sentiment in favour of musical scale and consistency – a case of emotion masterfully modulated and distilled.

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