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.
Stephen Hough says that he chose this program to be one of strange sonatas, which is altogether fitting for Liszt's 200th birthday. The program, consisting entirely of sonatas — no préludes, études or the like (not counting the three encore pieces) — might theoretically have been stranger with, say, one of Pierre Boulez's sonatas, but Hough seems to have been after a more subtle variety of strangeness. A sense of mystery and a very personal quality, very expressive of the internal world marry these pieces under Hough's playing. The honesty and faithfulness to the Truth in his playing brought the music close to poetry. Though making music and poems are not the same or even parallel activities, the word 'sonata' shares an etymology with 'sonnet', the stem son- having to do with sound, and, as Stephen Hough points out in the program note, a sonata is sounded rather than sung, the piano having to make do on its own without words. Hough also pointed out in his short speech in-between the Beethoven and his own piece (usually I'd be against spiels in amongst the music, but Hough is a very good public speaker, thoughtful an interesting, with the voice of a 1930's radio presenter), that Liszt, whose birthday fell on the very day of this recital, invented the concept and the word 'recital' as a sort of pure recitation of music of a single musician. Thus, though sounded and not sung there is the similar expectation in the audience, the similar solitude of the performer as in a poetry recitation, far from a mere reading, but an honest expression of the sonata as if it were naturally being created then and there, as Hough says 'as if the notes were still wet on the page.' Mozart wrote something similar once, that the height of piano playing is to play as if you had composed the music yourself.