tue 24/11/2020

Martino Tirimo, Kings Place | reviews, news & interviews

Martino Tirimo, Kings Place

Martino Tirimo, Kings Place

The Cypriot pianist strikes depths working his way through the complete Chopin

This is what Chopin anniversary year ought to be all about; not some celebrity showcase of plums and cornerstones in too large a hall before a restless audience, but a thoughtfully planned adventure zigzagging through the complete works on which the listener feels privileged to eavesdrop, and where the chameleonic genius of the composer always comes first. This eighth concert in the enterprising Kings Place "Chopin Unwrapped" series was the first I've been able to catch, and I realised what I'd been missing. Both of Cypriot pianist Martino Tirimo's two halves offered a demanding but enthralling journey from youthful buoyancy into the labyrinths of human thought and feeling.
Simple esprit launched both voyages of discovery, each one a recital in itself: to start, the 11-year-old's A flat Polonaise, hardly budging in its left hand but unfolding an already characteristic dance-song in the right, and after the interval the three irresistible Ecossaises dashed off when Chopin was 16. Any of them would make a perfect, less-than-a-minute encore. But Tirimo is not about flash and airy glitter, even if his impeccable sense of rubato frees up every number and relieves any sense of sobriety in his plain-speaking articulation. His other supreme qualities are a refusal to rush the big stuff, for me Zimerman's big flaw the other week, and a reluctance to swamp the florid passages with the sustaining pedal, which meant that every missing or wrong note - only to be expected in a recital of this magnitude - was ruthlessly exposed.

It was Chopin's amazingly poetic variation on a theme from Bellini's I Puritani - least showy of six by leading composer-pianists of the day, as Harriet Smith's succinct but informative notes told us - which first led us into a deeper world of expression. Very much the confusing heart of the first half were the four Op 30 Mazurkas, Tirimo suddenly producing a more bravura tone for the first time in the D flat ceremonials before one of the most disturbing of them all, the C sharp minor Mazurka which winds down its obsessive questioning in a chromatic plunge to a bleak final chord.

The quirks of the mazurkas - and maybe one day this year we can hear one pianist tackle them all in a single concert - were counterbalanced in Tirimo's second half by the balm of the expansive Op 62 Nocturnes. They were flanked by six Op 25 Etudes which he took very seriously, again with no tearaway flamboyance and an almost dogged insistence on clarity in No 11, and two waltzes; it was perhaps only in the grand A flat number that we might have missed a bit of the show-off, tearway virtuoso.

Yet that would have been out of place in the bigger scheme of things. Tirimo's planning left us with two big numbers at the end of each half, full of surprises however well we thought we knew them. The Fantaisie's prowling in circles, disturbingly rendered by the taut rhythmic spring that was a Tirimo hallmark throughout, and its restless fireworks came to rest in the march-chorale and above all in the pianist's perfect placing of the final Benediction. It was certainly, by contrast, risky to end the official programme with a disturbing number which brutally dismisses its rays of light, the first Ballade - and the encore, the C sharp minor waltz in an earthy interpretation at opposite poles to Zimerman's Festival Hall extra, did little to relieve the question mark. The quest, Tirimo seemed to be telling us, was to be continued - as it will be in four more concerts this June which I'll try not to miss. After all, it's rare, and surely the highest tribute to the interpreter, to come out of a Chopin recital thinking not "what a brilliant pianist" but "what a composer".

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