City Recital Hall, Angel Place: 26 March 2012
Abduraimov plays in Adelaide 29-31 March
Domenico Scarlatti – Three Keyboard Sonatas: Allegro in B minor Kk27, Allegro in G minor Kk450, Allegrissimo in D major Kk96
Beethoven – Sonata no. 7 in D, opus 10 no. 3
Brahms – Variations on a Theme of Paganini, opus 35: Book 1
Liszt (and Horowitz) (arr) – Danse Macabre, S555 after Danse Macabre, opus 40 by Saint-Saëns
Liszt – Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S173: 3. Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude,
Mephisto Waltz no. 1, S154
Behzod Abduraimov – piano
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.
Abduraimov launch into the recital already at temperature. His Scarlatti was restrained but vital and distinctive, very human and moving. Perhaps the recital hall was a bit too large for the music, which is detailed and does not have the power of the Romantic piano pieces, but he adapted the music to the modern Steinway piano in creative ways which allowed it to take up more space while giving a more faithful impression than pretending the piano were a harpsichord or a period piano. The ornaments were pianistic but made good artistic and aesthetic sense and his dynamic and tempo changes were well judged and coordinated with the pedaling and his tying of the runs of notes. He understood and gave as much attention to the virtuosic technique and detail as to the grand arc of each whole sonata — which is what makes them sonatas even if we are more used to the extended three or four movement Beethoven species. His fingers have incredible speed and he does not hold back in using his full speed, accelerating to an extraordinary tempo in the first movement of the Beethoven sonata (the Presto). Not to say that he rushed it or that his first tempo applied to the piece as a whole — he took the fast sections, especially the runs and the themes with ornamented figures and rushes of short notes at top speed, as if anything faster would be impossible or inhuman, but gave other very lyrical sections very careful tempo changes so as to be ruminant, as they should, rather than as an effect, also giving pauses and silences a satisfying stretch. But always these lyrical sections were massive, very serious, in the very firm, almost forceful way he phrased them. Some of the super fast turns and other ornaments at times lost some detail of articulation in the individual notes, then again the rising or falling runs were very fluent and flowed together practically into a glissando even though he was using each finger separately.
His Steinway suited very well his style in this kind of ability and playing, combined with a rather firm projecting touch. The total sound from these cascades of notes and chords, especially the very colorful chords Liszt uses, was crystalline and faceted, sparkling and electric. This sort of sound worked very well for the Brahms Variations on the Paganini Theme which are as dependent on sharp changes in texture as on changes in tempo, dynamics, key and mood. Even while the variations sounded fresh and surprising, like very free improvisations, he seemed to find in them an overarching nature which tended to pull them round into a cycle, even a gyre, which wraps around itself into a whole.
The Mephisto Waltz was a familiar jaunty hat to cap the program and give it a natural ending (though the audience made greedy noises for an encore), but the really memorable part of the program was the Liszt Bénédiction. Abduraimov took his time with the piece or rather allowed it to take its own time, stretching out into its own natural length, the very tender extended opening section was so beautiful and moving as to defy description or analysis in the way it mesmerized and absorbed the listener. The total plan of the piece, however mysterious, tended to soar over in a single flight, even through the silences, the music seeming to float free of any material or technical causes.