Thursday, May 24, 2018

Grand Finale

The Vancouver Chopin Society rounded out its 20thAnniversary Season with a highly satisfying recital by pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk. The young pianist is no stranger to Vancouver audiences, as he is a frequent concerto soloist with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the name Bach was almost synonymous with that of Busoni. Today, Bach/Busoni transcriptions seemed to have fallen out of favour with pianists, and Bach’s music are most often played without the “assistance” of other composers. Gavrylyuk’s choice of Bach/Busoni’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor- yes, theToccata and Fugue that is so much a part of Hollywood horror films – makes for a most welcomed choice in programming.

Gavrylyuk’s interpretation of this majestic work is firmly rooted in grand style of the 19thcentury, when pianists exploited (in the best sense of the word) the tonal resources and technical possibilities of the instrument. His pacing was excellent, and his pregnant silences in the opening of the Toccata were most effective. His playing of the fugue began simply, and his technical control of the instrument allowed the music to build in tension as well as intensity. 

In his essay, Must Classical Music be Entirely Serious, Alfred Brendel writes, “The combination of incongruous elements is generally regarded as a distinguishing feature of wit.” I had this statement in my mind as I enjoyed Gavrylyuk’s playing of Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI:32. The composer’s juxtaposition of the “serious” key of B minor and the quirky nature of the music, especially in the outer movements, filled this work with a humour most characteristic of Haydn. The opening of the first movement reminds me of children playing hide-and-seek, tiptoeing around and darting in and out of hiding places. Gavrylyuk played this movement with lovely fingerwork, and a beguiling lightness. The Menuetmovement was played with a charming innocence, not trying to make the music more than a lovely intermezzo between the outer movements. The third movement is a typical example of Haydn’s rough and tumble sense of humour. Once again, the high drama of the key of B minor is set against the hilarity of the music. Gavrylyuk relished every bit of the composer’s wit, playing the music in the manner of a Buster Keaton chase scene. The resulting effect was breathtaking.

The pianist concluded the first half of his recital with a selection of Chopin’s Twelve Etudes, Op. 10. The justly famous Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3, was played simply but lovingly. Gavrylyuk has a keen sense of the cantabile, and he managed to bring a sense of freshness to this very familiar piece of music and to make it a moving experience. In the F major Etude(No. 8), he managed to draw my attention to the beauty of the writing for the left hand, and not his amazing fingerwork in the right hand. I have certainly heard more dramatic interpretation of the Etude in F minor(No 9), but the pianist’s playing of it was probably closer to the composer’s intentions. There are only two indications of fortissimo in the score, and most of the dynamic indications range from pianoto ppp. He played the Etude in A-flat major(No. 10) with an incredible lightness and effortlessness in the right hand, and a keen sense of Chopin’s legatissimomarking in the left hand. The Etude in E-flat major(No. 11) was played with a palpable beauty of sound. Gavrylyuk certainly conjured up a storm in the so-called “Revolutionary”Etude in C minor(No. 12). There was a real feeling of surge in the arpeggios. His playing, dramatic as it was, never lost the cantabilenature of the writing in the left hand. I thought it was very wise of him to have a brief pause between Etudes, allowing the audience to really savour the unique character of each of these remarkable miniatures. 

The artist launched into Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 with incredible energy, and kept it up throughout the work. Gavrylyuk painted the work with the largest palette of tonal colours and the widest dynamic range. He obviously reveled in the sonority of the piano and brought out the sexual energy of the music. I did not think that he was trying to explore the mystical aspects of the music; rather, he took us on a musical and colouristic journey through the labyrinth complexity of Scriabin’s sound world. 

Alexander Gavrylyuk is known, and has a special affinity for, the works of Rachmaninoff. He presented three of the composers Preludes, and the 2ndedition of the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor. I remember the surging left hand of the Prelude in F-sharp minor, Op. 23, No. 1, as well as the dark colours that he managed to bring out. For me, the highlight of the set was his incredibly intense reading of the Prelude in G minor, Op. 23, No. 5. In the opening section of the work, he really conjured up in my mind the image of a troika speeding through the icy landscape of Siberia. The beautiful middle section had an emotive quality as well as a real sense of forward motion in the music. And I will always remember the shimmering quality, and the incredible evenness and lightness of his playing of the right hand figuration in the Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op. 32, No. 12.

The last work on the programme, Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minorwas simply magnificent. Less obviously “tuneful” than the second piano concerti or second symphony, this work already foreshadows at the stylistic and harmonic advances we would hear in the 4thpiano concerto. Throughout the performance, there was not a moment that I felt that this was anything less than a master pianist at work. Technically impregnable and sonically resplendent, Gavrylyuk brought to the fore the bell-like sonority one hears time and again throughout the work, as well as the brooding melancholy of the more lyrical passages. 

Of course the audience clamored for more after that masterful performance, and Gavrylyuk graciously granted us two encores – Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, in a transcription by Zoltan Kocsis, and Arcadi Volodos unbelievably virtuosic arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca. In the Vocalise, he brought out the music’s many textures in Kocsis’ idiomatic transcription. Volodos’ Rondo alla Turca arrangement is not for the faint-hearted, and Gavrylyuk’s playing of it was nothing short of astounding, so much so that I wanted to laugh out loud, because it was simply such an incredible pianistic stunt. His technique alone certainly earns him a place in the stratospheric high of a Horowitz, a Lhévinne, or a Barere.

This past week’s recital certainly ended this year concert season on a very high note. The concert was my first encounter with the artistry and pianism of Alexander Gavrylyuk. With recitals such as the one he gave in Vancouver, it seems that his artistic and musical future will be bright indeed. I hope that he will return to us soon, and often.

May 24, 2018

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