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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Concert Review: And Then Things Got Difficult

Bezhod Abduraimov makes his main stage Carnegie Hall debut.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The pianist Bezhod Abdumairov and friend.
Photo courtesy Harrison Parrott.
In February of 2015, the young Uzbek pianist Bezhod Abduraimov made his debut at Carnegie Halls Weill Recital Hall. On Thursday night, Mr. Abduraimov made his second visit o the Hall that Music  Built. This concert marked his debut on the big stage of Stern Auditorium, with a fierce and intense program of works by German, Austrian and Russian composers.

The pianist began with Bach, offering a pair of transcriptions for the piano played without a pause. He opened with the Siciliano from the D minor Concerto in an inventive, dreamy arrangement by Alfred Cortot before launching into the evening's first showpiece, the Toccatta and Fugue in D minor, played here in a well-known and challenging transcription by the composer and virtuoso pianist Ferruccio Busoni.

In this familiar and yet technically terrifying music, Mr. Abduraimov rode the sustain pedal, using the Steinway’s natural overtones to imitate the great sound of a pipe organ. He forced his right hand into a claw to play the multi-note counterpoint and compensate for the piano’s single manual and lack of stops, blazing through Bach's counterpoint in a manner that  was extravagant without being at all frivolous. Yes, this transcription is something of a showpiece but thankfully, it was treated as serious music.

Mr. Abdurmaizov took the same sober approach to the two Schubert Moments Musicaux. First up was the expansive rondo-like No 2 in A Flat Major, with its slow passages providing a venue for the artist to express himself poetically. The sober No. 3 in F minor followed, it's rigid, constrained rhythms offering a further exploration of this artists technical gifts.

Those gifts were brought to bear Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in F minor, tagged "Appassionata" by an enterprising music publisher some years after the composer's death. The leaping interval that opened was played as a statement of purpose, pressure to the through working out of the opening interval as seed for the Sonata Allegro. Mr. Abduraimov infused the pages of the slow central movement with dreamy tone before leaping it not he fray of the finale with the energy of a young man eager to prove himself. And he did.

A bigger challenge lurked in the second half of the program: Serge Prokofiev's demanding, dissenting and (technically) daunting four-movement Sonata No. 6. Prokofiev wrote this followi. The first movement started with with nightmarish opening chords. It was followed by a taut, almost brittle dance movement that boasted icy ornamentation, played with surgical skill. The slow movement was an unexpectedly lush waltz, followed by a whirlwind ginale where the music goes from manic laughter to a rictus of terror and death. All this was tossed off to by yo the young artist, hunched in concentration as he thundered up and down the keyboard.

The finale was even more difficult. Islamey by Mily Balakirev isn't programmed very much anymore. Its ornate arabesques and smoky orientalisms sound like relics of a better age. It’s also damn difficult to play, but Mr. Abduraimov seemed unfazed. He charged headlong to its heart, breaking little sweat as he tossed off the scales and broken chords that shifted and swirled like smoke on the horizon. And he obliged his cheering supporters with two impressive encores, the delicate Nocturne in C sharp minor by Tchaikovsky and Liszt’s La Campanella ("The Little Bell") that featured the tinkling upper register of the piano. Also known as the Paganini Etude No. 3, this piece can completely bring down a house. It did just that.

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