Festival Music

Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce


ALMOST 20 years ago, a recital in Glasgow’s newish concert hall by French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, which was also being broadcast on BBC Radio 3, was famously disrupted by his page-turner becoming lost in the music and contractors working on the Buchanan Galleries adding un-scored percussion. Nothing so horrible happened on Monday morning, although the page-turner had an enormously demanding job (I only noticed Aimard over-riding her once), and the start was a little delayed, probably while the lighting on the music was adjusted to the pianist’s satisfaction.

He can hardly be faulted for wanting things “just so” for a programme that explored the cutting edge of early 20th century piano writing on a vintage Bechstein instrument selected for the job, followed after the interval by the interleaving of Chopin Nocturnes and three selections from Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux.

The recital began in territory that was even more exotic than that, with the music of Russian experimentalist Nikolay Obukhov, full of angular, haunting repeated phrases and big resonating bass chords, his religious titling of the short pieces suggesting a fire-and-brimstone Messiaen. His great influence Alexander Scriabin provided the bridge to an Aimard nod to the Debussy centenary in a sequence that was played without a break and which, while not chronological, made very clear the kinship of each with the other. If Debussy’s goldfish could be heard in the Scriabin, five of the French composer’s Etudes illustrated that these technically demanding works are not so far distant from the direction of the avant-garde of the era.

That bracing journey made the coupling of composers after the interval much less daunting, and the structure of intricate musical landscapes by each of them was transparent in Aimard’s passionate playing, with the transitions from the 19th century into the 20th particularly seamless. The applause for another remarkable recital from this Queen’s Hall regular, the first of three EIF appearances this year, was rewarded with a George Enescu Nocturne, the “perfect encore” for the programme as he described it, and there was no dissent.