Sunday, November 18, 2018

Young Virtuoso

The young keyboard sensation Nikolay Khozyainov appeared at the Vancouver Playhouse last evening and conjured up memories of a time when disciples of Liszt – names like Tausig, Rosenthal, Reisenauer, Joseffy, and Friedheim, to name just a few - roamed the earth. Khozyainov is a virtuoso, without apologies, and gave us a performance that left the piano limp and the audience exhilarated.

In the Berceuse, Op. 57, probably one of Chopin’s most subtle works, Khozyainov played with quite a lot more clarity that we are used to. I feel that this particular work by Chopin really foreshadows the Impressionists, but certainly the young artist’s view of it is quite valid. His use of pedal was subtle and sparing, and he used his fingers to conjure up a beautiful cantabile, somewhat like what Horowitz used to do.

In the first movement of Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58, he had ample control of all the disparate elements that make up the larger structure. His was a grand, sweeping, view of the music, and he approached the movement like a painter working on a giant canvas. In the scherzo, he again demonstrated his incredible finger control of this truly technically scary movement. I felt that the Largo movement was the highlight of the first half, with the pianist acting as a guide leading us through the very beautiful musical landscape. I also liked how he brought out the little countermelodies in the left hand, especially at m. 30 and m. 80. I only felt that the subito pianobetween m. 2 and m.3 where, without warning, Chopin changes from opening E’s to a C major 6/4 chord, a magical moment in the music, could have been done with greater subtlety. There seemed to have been some tempo shifts in the fourth movement, marked presto, but also non tanto, which took away somewhat the relentless quality that the music calls for. It goes without saying, though, that the playing itself was beyond reproach. 

The second half of the recital began with Debussy’s Suite bergamasque. Other than the justly famous Clair de Lune, the entire suite is not something we commonly find on recital programmes. The clarity Khozyainov brought to the music was perfect for the Menuetand Passepiedmovements. I think I would have preferred a more “liquid” sound for the Prélude. In the Menuet, his playing really observed Debussy’s indication of et très délicatement. I feel that perhaps there should not be quite so much rubatoin this very neo-classical movement. His playing of Clair de Lune was, again in Debussy’s words, très expressif, and there was a transparency in his playing that added an extra delicacy to the music. Khozyainov demonstrated incredible lightness as well as finger control in the Passepied.

Is there anything more difficult to play than Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Petrushka? I remember a stunning performance by Yefim Bronfman years ago. Certainly the visual aspect of watchingsomeone play this incredible music added to the experience. Khozyainov certainly rose well above the challenges laid down by the composer. I admired the performance very much, perhaps more for his bringing out the kaleidoscopic colours of the music than for highlighting music’s tragicomic character. Equally impressive is Khozyainov’s own transcription of the Sacrificial Dancefrom Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

This is clearly a performer who loves to play, and with the four encores he granted us, it seemed that he would have been happy to continue playing all night. His first encore, Grand Galop Chromatique, one of the composer’s many superhuman pianistic stunts, was done to perfection. Even though Khozyainov’s performance does not erase my memory of Georges Cziffra’s unbelievable performance, he certainly came close. He also played his own operatic paraphrases/fantasies from the operas Carmenand Marriage of Figaro. The other encore - Eric Satie’s GymnopédieNo. 1 - was, I think, played with too much rubato. I feel that the hypnotic effect of this music could only be conjured when played strictly in tempo. 

Whether or not you agree with Nikolay Khozyainov’s interpretations, this is clearly a young man overflowing with talent and musicality. As a pianist, he really is a throwback to the great 19thcentury tradition of virtuosic piano playing laid down by Liszt. Certainly he conveys in his music making a sense of joy in sharing his art.

What a celebration of music it has been this November! Within a period of three weeks, we experienced the pianism and artistry of three of today’s outstanding young pianists – Igor Levit, Charles Richard-Hamelin, and Nikolay Khozyainov - three very different artists with very different taste and temperament; each having something unique to offer. Certainly to experience them in such close succession had made for a very interesting and rewarding musical experience. No one has the right to say whether one is “better” than another, but the process of comparing what each of them have to offer has already been fascinating. 

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