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Chopin After Lunch
Published on Saturday, 29 August 2009

Due to congestion on the way to Princes Street (blame the trams), the penultimate concert in the series presented by the Royal Over-Seas League became Chopin before Lunch. Still, with the prospect of shortbread served after the recital, I wasn't too worried. But before all that, I was treated to some Schubert, Schumann and then three classic Chopin pieces with Nicola Eimer at the piano.

With hindsight, the one word that jumps into my mind when I think about Eimer's playing as a whole is “inoffensive”. In the first Schubert piece, his Impromptu No. 3 in B flat major, D. 935, the louder, angrier passages weren't that angry, meaning there wasn't that huge a contrast with the softer, more contemplative variations. However, since the Impromptu is quite playful, this did not bother me too much; Eimer clearly projected an overall sense of optimism in the piece. The same can be said of her second piece, Schumann's Arabesque in C major, Op. 18.

Barely giving the applause time to stop, Eimer then dived into the opening of Chopin's Grand Valse brilliante in A flat major, Op.34, No. 1. By doing this, making the opening a sudden burst of bravura, Eimer made a clear statement she was aiming for “grand” and “brilliante” in the waltzes. Unfortunately, this doesn't really suit her general playing style and it never felt quite as natural and flowing as it could have been. Still I have a lot of praise for the Op. 34, No. 2, by far the slowest of the three Grand Valses brilliantes, and quite a melancholy piece. Crucially sticking to Chopin's marking of Lento, this was Eimer's best piece. She has a wonderful ability to produce soft, delicate sounds and yet keep a satisfying tone, and that was just what the waltz needs.

The penultimate piece was the famous Prelude in D flat major, Op. 28, No. 15, nicknamed the Raindrop Prelude. The repetitive quavers in the left hand (which gave this prelude its name) and the rather obvious rise and fall in the prelude mean this is a very hard piece for a pianist to leave an individual mark. Through no fault of Eimer's, I'm afraid this piece left me, as it usually does, rather cold.

Eimer chose to finish with Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, which happens to be my favourite of all his compositions - and it was during this piece I realised what Eimer's playing seemed to lack: a darker side. Her playing was too optimistic and playful for the ballade. Fast, energetic sections erred a little on the virtuoso, losing the hint of menace that should have been there.

Curiously, this is not the only Chopin after Lunch concert this year that his Op. 23 has been played in. It also was performed by Martin Cousin, whose Beethoven for Breakfast I earlier reviewed. Perhaps a little more co-ordination between the schedules would be appreciated by the dedicated concer-goers in the audience. Still, it is always a pleasure to hear some my favourite music - so all in all, I'm grateful.

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