Having already played the Prokofiev 3rd Piano Concerto three times with Vladimir Ashkenazy last week, Behzod Abduraimov played this one-off recital, and a grueling one it was. It is a very nice idea, though, for the Sydney Symphony to arrange these solo recitals of some of their visiting pianists (there will be three more recitals this year) as we get a chance to hear more of their personal character than is expressed in the big symphonic concert hall with the orchestra. As the Symphony's artistic director and chief conductor, and moreover as a great pianist himself, Ashkenazy has invited or at least agreed to play with, some wonderful and characterful pianists, especially Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and Stephen Hough last year. Behzod Abduraimov who only made his first tour a few years ago (with Ashkenazy and the SSO, as it happens), has a very definite style which he expresses always without reserve, his interpretations always having clarity. Even if it is different from your own thoughts or interpretation of a piece or from your favorite pianists (he is very different from Horowitz, though I believe the comparison has been made in the past) his style is strongly magnetic and his interpretations convincing enough to draw one into his musical world, and it is of course healthy and fun to hear new and varied interpretations of old favorites.
With an impressive list of singing competition wins and opera roles, not least her brilliant Eurydice and Sibyl in the Pinchgut Opera's production of Haydn's opera of the Orpheus myth L'anima del Filosofo in 2010, Elena Xanthoudakis is now directing her energies toward researching and rediscovering Romantic Lieder written for trio, here soprano, clarinet, and piano, and she is doing done so in style with a definite passion for the genre, which is fitting to the original spirit of the music. The trio have recorded a CD called "The Shepherd and the Mermaid" of some of their finds (which I haven't yet heard) and here perform the songs on it, including parts of Franz Lachner's version of von Chamisso's Frauenliebe und -leben cycle better known perhaps in the Schumann version and perhaps even the Loewe version. They are also publishing these pieces in print under the Kroma Editions name so all can have the opportunity to play them, obviously many of these are not on the usual free sheet music sites on the 'net, having had to be dug out of libraries in London and Vienna, and some (according to Xanthoudakis) have never been recorded.
This fascinating and varied program, each piece using equally colorful but very different orchestras and very different forms and structures, shows us some of the breadth of the Sydney Symphony. Their style is nimble enough to express itself in multifarious ways and Ashkenazy's style and approach to symphonic music is well suited to the three pieces. To mark the occasion of the orchestra's 80th anniversary, they have done something special in commissioning themselves a new piece by way of an open competition. Elliott Gyger's entry was chosen, and though only alloted a short amount of time to fit into this larger program of more familiar pieces, it does rather expand under the intensity of its short broken up motifs and its varied colors, sounds and textures, qualities Ashkenazy, at least as a conductor, seems to relish. The piece's title refers to the SSO's origin as a radio orchestra formed along with the Australian Broadcast Corporation in 1932. Gyger says he used an ensemble of 17 instruments, the same in the original 1932 radio orchestra, which for his "dialogue" are spread through the larger orchestra: three violins, viola, cello, bass, two each of trombones, trumpets and clarinets, a horn, sousaphone, piccolo, piano and percussion.