Last Sunday the pianist Jan Smeterlin gave a Romantic recital in the Guildhall. An Albert Hall agoraphobia seemed to seize him, and for much of the time we were thundered and blasted by his fine disregard for the structural limitations not only of our ears but of the piano. However, Smeterlin’s technique is very fine, and in many respects of interpretation his artistry superb—indeed there were passages in which the pianissimo was extremely exciting. His facial mannerisms, his tendency to burst into song at moments of crisis, and his over-fluidity of pedal did not really serve to detract from his performance, as they would have with a lesser man; and at the end he was able to take his due meed of bows and encores with no appearance of having snatched them.
The programme started with Schumann’s Phantasie in C, opus 17, a grateful example of the Teutonic meringue, after which came, somewhat lamely, works by Granados and Dukas. Of the latter composer I have no hesitation in saying that he ought to have written more film music than he did, but that as he did not, he was most wise to destroy, as he did, the greater part of his output. Even Smeterlin could not conceal from us the absence of message in what was otherwise a nicely phrased but long-winded telegram.
The peak of the afternoon was at about five to four—Chopin’s Preludes in their entirety. It was here that Smeterlin seemed to be more at home, playing almost as if only for his own personal diversion, though indeed it was greatly to ours as well. Considering that these pieces are probably amongst the meat and two veg. of all concert pianists, it was something of an artistic feat to give each one that fresh tenderness or boisterous insight that many repetitions so easily could have dulled.