Chichester Cathedral Lunchtime Concerts series: Mateusz Rettner, piano

Mateusz Rettner, Chichester Cathedral, Nov 22

It was fitting, for what is likely to be the last concert I attend in a rich and busy year, to arrive at The Well-Tempered Klavier. It is like an index to all music, the most lucid setting-out of a well-organised mind. It might be pure maths but it encompasses all else besides and beyond.

Matteusz Rettner played the C sharp preludes and fugues from Book 2. One can find in them whatever one wants to look for, darkness or light; precision or impressionism; either ceremonial or improvisational attitudes and something both impersonal but with an emotional charge. They reflect back whatever you are thinking of, and today were maybe autumnal.

Some pianists have specialist repertoire while others take on the whole range. We haven’t got all day and Matteusz moved on to the early Mozart Sonata K.280 with its teenage high spirits in the Allegro, the impossibly mature minor key Adagio and the quicksilver Presto.

Four of the opus 20 Mazurkas by Szymanowskiwere short, unsettling with their changing rhythms and a long way from Bach and Mozart but not quite as far away as the grandstand finale which, one suspects, might be where Mateusz’s main interests lie. At least on the evidence of this crashing performance.

I’ve never acquired the taste for Messaien and would be happy all day with the Bach but two ‘explosive’ movements from the Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-jesus were extraordinary and will live in the memory longest. The derivation of the word ‘messianic’ could come from Messaien. It doesn’t but maybe it should. These two excerpts were not representative of the twenty, we were told, but, percussive and ostensibly in the same spirit as The Rite of Spring’s more demonic passages, they were a dazzling blast of ‘joy’, or so Olivier intended, including a torrential downpour and an urgency that delivered us to an entirely different world from where we had begun with such orderly discipline and decorum.

It is usual for a concert to put in a big finish but this was the end of the season, too, and so appropriately a bigger finish than ever. I might be forgiven if I don’t explore it any further but as a once-in-a-long-time experience, I’m surprised but also glad to be able to say that it was the Messaien that most justified the journey.

David Green

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