Pianist Krystian Zimerman touches celestial soul of music in Meany concert

04.23.09
Krystian Zimerman
Seattle Times

It's been said in many ways by many people that hearing Bach is like hearing God. Last night at Meany Hall, God took things one step further. He walked onto the stage in the form of pianist Krystian Zimerman and declared, "Let there be light."

The edifice that arose in the shape of Bach's Partita No. 2 was constructed entirely of sounds that gleamed like shafts of pure energy. Each note Zimerman shaped seemed surrounded by a halo; chord progressions grew upon the next in crystalline formations. When Bach is played like this, without ego or display, the dazzling mathematics of the composition's mechanics turn invisible, revealing the glowing soul of the music itself.

If the Bach was divine, the Beethoven was divine madness. The Sonata No. 32 is a strange creature whose first half ripples with muscular chords and feathery trills. It lurks and lopes, chasing its tail in a fit of fugue before laying itself to rest. At times, Zimerman, who is a slight figure with silver hair, had to grab his seat to control the beast as it writhed.

There was a bit of grumbling at intermission about the program change announced at the start of the recital. Zimerman was replacing Brahms' "Klavierstücke" with Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz's Second Piano Sonata, an anxious, tattered tapestry of urban clamor that frays away to a wisp.

Alone, the Bacewicz would have been a mere curiosity, but next to compatriot Karol Szymanowski's "Variations on a Polish Theme," the change made sense. Bacewicz's piece served as a flag of sorts, to mark the Polish landscape Zimerman would create with the "Variations." It also helped answer the question the pianist had posed at the start of the night: "What is the purpose of this music?"

Zimerman conjured the landscape of his homeland with an expat's wistfulness. Out of a bedrock of noise, pointed spires rose melodically then fell; glissandos floated overhead like clouds; a village of cottages was spun out of twinkly folk song. The music had almost tangible mass, sometimes vaporous, other times solid as brick. Zimerman's purpose was clear: To remind us that there are those who will bleed for art, because no life is worth living without it.