fri 14/06/2024

Wosner, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place | reviews, news & interviews

Wosner, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place

Wosner, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place

Brilliant pianist dazzles, charms and intrigues in a wide-ranging display

Pianist Shai Wosner

For most pianists, playing the Ligeti Piano Concerto would be enough exertion for one night, to be followed by a stiff drink and some down time. Not for the tireless Shai Wosner at Kings Place last night. By the time the Ligeti came along, not only had he already played a Mozart concerto, he then went on to appear in every remaining item in the programme.

It was exhausting just to watch – but also exhilarating.

This concert was the latest instalment of Aurora Orchestra’s five-year survey of all the Mozart piano concertos, in roughly chronological order. The accompanying programming is innovative, as you would expect from Aurora, in this case embracing Chopin, Glass, Hindemith and the American maverick Conlon Nancarrow, alongside the two concertos.

If I had a complaint about the concert – and it’s a small one – it is that I did not really understand how the Mozart connected to the other pieces. It reminded me of the famous V&A adverts from the 1980s: “An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached.” Here we had an ace concert with some quite nice Mozart attached, and good though both parts of the equation were, they did not completely sit together. Perhaps this could have been addressed in the order of the programme, so the Mozart wasn’t out on a limb as the first item.

Conductor Nicholas CollonBut I have nothing but praise for Aurora’s scope and ambition, in a London concert world where the major venues seem to constantly recycle the same small repertoire. In particular, Hindemith’s Kammermusik No.1, that ended the evening, showed how welcome it would be to hear more of this currently unfashionable composer.

If it is unusual for a soloist to tackle two concertos, it is even more so for them to be quite so contrasting. The Ligeti is ferociously difficult, although Shai Wosner made it seem a breeze. He recently recorded it (with Aurora’s conductor Nicholas Collon, pictured above) so it is clearly home turf. But with its mind-boggling polyrhythms and manic passagework, the technical challenges are wide-ranging. The only aspect of the piano not really explored by Ligeti is present in the Mozart in abundance: the lyrical melodic line. Wosner showed himself able to make the piano sing as well as crackle in a humble performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.12, heard here in the chamber version with string quintet. This was not a heroic concerto with the pianist front and centre, but rather had a chamber music vibe, with no conductor and the piano at the back of the stage. The result was charming, modest and gave full reign to Mozart’s inventive string accompaniment.

But the night belonged to Shai Wosner’s unusual mixture of showmanship and humility

The second half began with Wosner alone on stage, playing a Chopin Mazurka with captivating inward intensity, improvisatory freedom and an enjoyment of the strangeness of the music. He segued into Philip Glass’s Mad Rush, which did what Glass does, but said less in 15 minutes and thousands of notes than Chopin did in four minutes and a handful. It was the only point of the evening I was a bit bored.

One of the most impressive things about Wosner was that, having played two concertos and two solo items, he still was happy to join the ensemble as orchestral pianist for the last two items: Nancarrow’s Study No.7 and the Hindemith. Indeed, this was in keeping with his low-key, collaborative approach in the concertos.

Nancarrow’s is an extraordinary story. The study was one of many written for pianola in the 1950s, as players of the time could not deal with Nancarrow’s technical demands. Aurora’s players could and did deal with these demands (as they did with Ligeti’s and Hindemith’s). Percussionist Henry Baldwin rattled out lightning xylophone lines, Adam Mackenzie characterised his bassoon lines gleefully, Matthew Gee’s trombone… I could really pick out every single member of the line-up for their work. But the night belonged to Shai Wosner’s unusual mixture of showmanship and humility.


It reminded me of the famous V&A adverts from the 1980s: 'an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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