10 May 2024

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Krystian Zimerman – still on stage for Chopin

Krystian Zimerman, born 1956 in Zabrze, Poland, is one of the few remaining pianists who worked with Karajan and are still present on stage and in the studio.

Zimerman might be more associated with Leonard Bernstein because of their Beethoven and Brahms recordings but he appeared more often in concert with Karajan than for example Sviatoslav Richter. In their first joint concert in Salzburg in May 1980, the 23-year-old managed to persuade Karajan to perform a work the maestro hadn’t conducted before – Chopin’s 2nd piano concerto. A few months later, they repeated it at the Lucerne Festival. Both concerts were recorded for broadcast.

In an interview with the magazine of the Brucknerhaus Linz in 2021 Zimerman recalled the beginning of his career: “The Chopin Competition wasn’t the first competition that I won but the first with such a huge impact. I had to learn the hard way. Concerning producers and journalists I got in a terrible situation. […] That period was dreadful. In 1979, I stopped that and I didn’t plan any concerts for 1980/81. Two months later, Karajan asked me whether I’d like to perform with him. Of course, that was a big temptation to get in touch with such an important musician.”

Between 1981 and 1985, Karajan and Zimerman performed Schumann’s piano concerto seven times. The Schumann – one of Karajan’s favourite piano concertos – was also part of their only studio recording in 1982. The other work was the preferably combined Grieg concerto. Karajan’s biographer Richard Osborne mentions some argument between Zimerman and Karajan during the recording but it can’t have been very serious otherwise Karajan wouldn’t have continued working with the young pianist in the following years. Which he did, not only for Schumann: Our data base lists an encounter in 1982 for Bartók’s 3rd piano concerto, a piece that Zimerman hasn’t recorded up till now. Unfortunately, we don’t have a record of this concert either.

“What Rubinstein and Karajan imparted to me to a great extent was courage to trust my intuition and to stand by my interpretation.”

Richard Osborne: “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

brucknerhaus.at  12 August 2021

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