REVIEW: Anna Zassimova returns to St Peter's Church - with music both warm and melancholic - all beautifully played

Written by Christopher Rogers on .


Anna Zassimova at St Peter's Church (photo copyright Magnus Arrevad) (Click to enlarge) Anna Zassimova at St Peter's Church (photo copyright Magnus Arrevad) (Click to enlarge) The latest of the ‘Brilliant Young Pianists in Saint Peter’s Church took place on Sunday (April 19) and was given by the young Russian pianist Anna Zassimova - her second visit to Saint Peter’s.  

Anna was born in Moscow and began her studies there at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music before moving on to Karsruhe University of Music in Germany.  She has played in many European music festivals, notably the Chopin Festival at Marianske Lasne  She has become well-regarded for her Chopin interpretations, some of which she has  recorded on period instruments

The first half of her recital, which was played without a break, revolved around music by Chopin. The recital began with two Nocturnes, both gentle and reflective, while the two Mazurkas are more rhythmic, the latter simple dying away to nothingness. Both these were played with imagination and tenderness.

Two short pieces, from the lyric Suite by Edvard Grieg followed, the first of which, also a Mazurka, may be a tribute to Chopin. The second with its repeated rhythm and expansive melody was exquisitely shaped.  

This was followed by two pieces from Scriabin’s Feuittets d’Album. The first of these short sketches, is gentle and reflective, like a deep sigh, the other is yet another lively and energetic Mazurka was played with panache.

To complete the first half Anna returned to Chopin. This time she played the Polonaise Opus 26 - a warm and sentimental piece.  Anna highlighted the work with huge variety of dynamics and there was a feeling of unbounded joy as she raced upwards through the semiquavers towards moments of pure rapture.

The work showed the world what the young Chopin was capable of producing, and  this evening, we heard Anna’s flair at  interpreting his works.
In addition to Chopin her repertoire includes piano masterpieces by early 20th century Russian composers, two of whom, Scriabin and Medtner, were included in her programme.  The recital's second half was devoted to two Russian composers, neither of whom is very well-known.  

First came Five Preludes by Nicolai Roslavets, a Ukrainian who began his studies in Moscow on 1902. All five are very short and different in mood, but characterized  by cascades of notes, falling like raindrops. The intervals were unusual and there were some curious dissonances typical of the new ‘Futurist’ movement which, with the pioneering work of Arnold Schoenberg a decade later, shaped the very foundations of 20th century European music.

Roslavets became a prominent member of the early Soviet musical élite, but fell out of favour with the establishment and was sent to Siberia. His work has, until very recently, languished in undeserved obscurity. These studies, played with force and diversity of mood, suggest his rehabilitation is justified.

Nikolai Medtner was an almost exact contemporary of Rachmaninov and Scriabin in the Moscow Conservatoire.  Unlike Roslavets, Medtner was neither a musical nor a social revolutionary. Unhappy in the controlling world of Soviet Russia, Medtner settled first in Germany (both his parents were German), then in England where he died in 1951.  

Musically his work is conservative - very tonal and lyrical, and there was a profound wistfulness about the work that Anna played: the ‘Sonata Reminiscera’. It is  a nostalgic yearning for the country and the society that he would never see again.

Anna captivated this mood of regret in its variety, moments of joy amidst a deep melancholy with soft lyrical passages among the brighter and more buoyant moments. Very appropriately there were also ‘Chopin’ moments, reflecting the common loss of country and social identity.

This was not an easy programme for the listener. Beautifully played indeed, but this carefully crafted programme was very dark and melancholic. There was little to quicken the heart and raise the spirit.  Nevertheless, an appreciative audience admired Anna’s skills as a ‘brilliant young pianist’.

With thanks to Magnus Arrevad for permission to use his photograph taken at the end of the recital.

The Brilliant Young Pianists series raises funds for the Marlborough Brandt Group & St Peter's Trust.  The next recital in the series featuring a rising young star, the French pianist Louise Cournarie, is on Sunday, 10 May 2015 at 7.30pm in St Peter's Church, Marlborough.
 Tickets £10, (MBG/ St Peter's Trust members £8) - available online from MBG.   The programme will include works by Bach, Mozart, Scriabin and Schubert.