Christian Zacharias – The Queen’s Hall

What else can be said about Christian Zacharias that we in the ‘classical’ music world, haven’t already heard? One of the world’s most celebrated pianists, he has once again blown our minds with his high level of finesse, passion, and eloquence.

As part of the East Neuk Festival Endowment, Zacharias generously performed a repertoire made up of the three composers he has played all his life: Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert. Undoubtedly, he has mastered their works to the highest level of proficiency imaginable while connecting with the music on the greatest spiritual level.

Zacharias starts the night with J.S Bach’s Partita No.3 in A Minor, effortlessly taking control of those figured bass lines and impressively fast scalic passages. From the beginning, he demonstrates great precision and timing of each note. What I find interesting and unique, however, is how often he (almost) unconsciously slows down with a Rallentando during cadences, yet does not place much dynamic emphasis on them. This leaves us anticipating the ‘perfect’ ending through the dragged feeling, but arriving there softly.

The repertoire then showcases Zacharias’ interest in Beethoven’s music, first playing 12 Variations on the Russian Dance from ‘Das Waldmädchen’. Written as social music that both entertains and requires a skilful musician to play, Zacharias surely did not let Beethoven fans down. Here, he takes on a different persona through his physical gestures – one that ‘reflects the quirkiness of the theme itself’. During moments of rest for the left hand, he sharply flicks it up to count a beat or so before resuming his playing, nodding along to the notes pulled from his touches. From one variation to another, his exquisite control of dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo commands our attention to be on both his virtuoso playing and this unique musical theme.

Before the interval, Zacharias demonstrates another side of Beethoven, as well as his piano skills, by playing the Sonata in F Minor (Op 2, No 1). As a well known piece, it is often difficult for musicians to introduce a twist without ever changing the music itself. However, it was no surprise there when Zacharias managed to do so. He is a musician who feels the music that he plays, especially as he does so without a score in front of him. This perhaps persuaded him to experiment with a range of expressions, to the point that I’m sure matched Beethoven’s level.

With his final piece of the repertoire (not counting the two Schubert Waltzes as encore to ‘calm [us] down’), Zacharias captivated our attention with Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor. His eloquent touches on the piano brought out clearly all the mordents and trills which characterise this piece, while again intelligently capturing the musical soul of Schubert’s works. 

This was a fantastic performance by an exquisite pianist – his passion for the music clearly shines through his playing, and the audience could not have loved him more!

PHOTO: The Queen’s Hall

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