Giorgio Koukl | 18 MAR 2021
Somebody coming out of the school of Antonio Pompa-Baldi, a pianist I value highly, captures immediately all my attention. After discovering the wide range of interest of Dr. Alexander Wasserman, going from large Rachmaninoff concerts to intimate romantic pieces of Chopin, my attention was even more focused.
Dr. Wasserman has chosen to begin his short recital with one of the most famous pages by Frederic Chopin, the Nocturne in C-sharp minor, known also under the name of Lento con gran espressione. It was published some twenty years after the death of the Polish composer and is dedicated to his sister Ludwika. The destiny of this short piece was an extraordinary one. It captured the attention of dozens of filmmakers by its melodic, melancholic and elegant structure. Being used in films like The Peacemaker, The Karate Kid, Terminator or The Pianist, this music followed somehow the destiny of other short pieces composers have written without knowing how much their music would capture the attention of the general public. Let’s recall the Rachmaninoff’s Prelude or Beethoven’s Für Elise.
Wasserman’s rendering was very delicate, with the melody perfectly shaped. It was immediately clear that this pianist knows his Chopin extremely well and that he finds himself perfectly at ease in this dreamy, romantic world. All the dynamic possibilities were used with elegance and a certain nostalgic flair. The gesturality of the pianist was reduced to a minimum. A certain harmony is present even in his slow and minimalistic body movements. Ultimately the slowly flowing music finds its solution in a glowing major chord, played with delicacy.
As a second piece Wasserman selected the lesser-known Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat major, Op.51.Published in 1843 as third of four Impromptus it was actually written as the last one. With its 105 bars only it is a classic example of what Chopin was able to achieve with minimal musical material, delivering a small marvel in harmony, perfectly formed and also, as usual for this composer, very comfortable to play.
Wasserman has chosen a nostalgic, delicate and nearly translucent way of playing. His way to present the rubati speed changes, sometimes quite pronounced, was nevertheless very convincing and logical. Sometimes in Chopin the difference of being perfect or overdoing a rubato is a very tiny one. Never, even for one time, was this pianist on the wrong side. This was clearly a work of decades of pondering, study and practicing.
The third piece of this miniature Chopin recital was Étude nouvelle in A-flat major. This is the third of the set of études not included in the well known bigger sets of Opus 10 and 25. Its entire structure is based on an interplay of duplets in left hand against triplets in the right hand, a charming game giving much liberty to the harmonic evolution of the piece. Despite its brevity it is again a small gem permitting to the pianist to show his abilities in measure and restraint.
Once again Wasserman displayed all his abilities in this tiny show of millisecond shifts between both hands, showing all the range of dynamic and rhytmic possibilities which a good pianist must control in order to obtain pleasant results of these apparently “easy” pieces. Sometimes a thrilling “pièce de resistance,” full of technical firework is easier to play than this seemingly simple music.
The last work of the recital, well chosen to close this interesting handful of Chopin works, was the Ballade No.2 in F-major Op. 38. Surely the longest and also the most challenging piece of the whole program, written between 1836-39 partially on the island of Maiorca in Spain, it is dedicated to Robert Schumann in exchange of his dedication of Kreisleriana. It seems Schumann didn’t consider it a valid attempt, evidently under the impression of the far more brilliant first ballade. Indeed, the F-major Ballade’s beginning is a sort of barcarolle, surely not so impressive as the more somber and dramatic theme of the precedent ballade.
Dr. Wasserman has chosen a tranquil pace well knowing that the second theme, with its explosive character, will be more surprising in this way. I admired this capacity in many other details of his playing, always juxtaposing thematic material with intelligence and ability.
When the second theme, “Presto con fuoco,” finally arrives under the fingers of the pianist a real firework is unleashed. We can admire here all the power and steel-like quality of his playing. Sparing such a moment of surprise for the last piece only is a brilliant choice. The same qualities can be observed in the final “Agitato.”
Generally speaking, this short program of Chopin was a real showcase of the abilities of Alexander Wasserman, which he was able to present well despite the video’s questionable audio recording technique. ■