The world is full of magnificent pianists–every generation provides its gems–but for me, the Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman has always set the standard. I first heard him in the 80s in DC in a luminous performance of the complete Chopin Preludes at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Later he came (with his own piano I think) to Jordan Hall in Boston for a solo recital, and then all three Brahms Violin Sonatas with Gidon Kremer (a musical odd couple, given Kremer’s impulsiveness versus Zimerman’s poise).
He is, like many a great musician, apparently a squirrely character. He has disowned some of his earliest recordings, despite their glories, and has gone into the studio only sparingly in recent years. He also is fanatical about the exact sound of the piano, and its technical maintenance, traveling with his own instrument when possible, and more recently, with a keyboard he created himself!
Here he is as a young man, the picture of musical elegance, the gesture of his hands alone enough to see how attuned his whole being is to the musical purpose.
Zimerman, after trouble with U.S. customs, and also strong disagreement with some U.S. policies, has forsworn touring in the U.S. Our loss.