Piano Recital: Boris Berezovsky
Hindemith / Bartók / Ligeti / Scarlatti / Stravinsky
Salle del Castillo, Vevey, 2016-07-01
2016-07-04 — Original posting
The day after Kristian Bezuidenhout’s fortepiano recital in Cully, the festival Lavaux Classic featured another recital in the neo-baroque, recently renovated Salle del Castillo in Vevey, just a few steps from the lake of Geneva. The artist was the Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky (*1969), with a program featuring
- Paul Hindemith (1895 – 1963): “Suite 1922”, op.26
- Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945): Sonata, Sz.80 / BB 88
- György Ligeti (1923 – 2006): 3 Etudes
- Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757): 3 Sonatas
- Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971): Sonate pour piano (1924)
- Igor Stravinsky: 3 Mouvements de Pétrouchka
This program was distributed even during the concert on the previous day. However, prior to the recital, leaflets with a modified program were distributed, featuring the following alterations:
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): Piano Sonata No.21 in C major, op.53, “Waldstein” — in lieu of the Hindemith
- Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945): 3 Etudes op.18 — in lieu of the Ligeti
However, that was not the end of the changes. I took from the announcement by the organizer that last minute changes are quite common with this artist. Therefore, further changes were to be announced by the artist during the recital. So, it would be a surprise concert! In the end, the Scarlatti sonatas were dropped, too, also the Etudes op.18 by Bartók were eliminated again. Instead, Berezovsky chose four movements by Tchaikovsky. So, here we go, in the order of the performance:
As announced in the modified program (see above), Boris Berezovsky started his recital with the Piano Sonata No.21 in C major, op.53, “Waldstein” by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827). I have written up some information on this sonata in an earlier post. Let me just give a list of the movements here:
- Allegro con brio
- Introduzione: Adagio molto —
- Rondo: Allegretto moderato — Prestissimo
I suspect Berezovsky regarded the original starter piece, the Suite “1922” by Paul Hindemith, as being too harsh for the audience. It is indeed more dissonant than any of the other pieces, also more dissonant than the Ligeti Etudes, which were dropped as well.
The Beethoven sonata is certainly an easier start for the audience. At the same time, I must say that I was amazed to realize how many people—my neighbors, even the organizers, apparently—did not recognize the Waldstein sonata! I love that sonata! I also really like Berezovsky as artist for the highly virtuosic repertoire of the late romantic era and of the 20th century—but Beethoven??
Yes, Berezovsky is very virtuosic, also with Beethoven, of course: his playing is technically perfect, smooth—too smooth, indeed! His playing lacks contours, detail in articulation, small-scale agogics, let alone any signs of Klangrede. The artist is focusing on flow, on the big dramatic development, the large arches. He tended to accelerate slightly towards a climax (one could easily argue for broadening the pace towards the climax in a phrase!), but in general, he just stuck to the pace, throughout the movement. It all felt smoothed out, polished, and of course entirely embedded in the sound esthetics of a modern concert grand (a Steinway D in this case). What a contrast to Kristian Bezuidenhout’s Beethoven that I heard a day before!!!
The Introduzione (Adagio molto) is more an introduction to the final movement than an autonomous slow movement. Berezovsky made the melody line stand out rather strongly, too ostensibly in my opinion. At the same time, the flow is rather slow, hesitant, static. Note that Adagio molto means “very calmly”, not “very slow”.
The Rondo, finally, repeated the experience from the Allegro con brio: a nicely singing melody line, but otherwise a fast, very fast interpretation, smooth, overly polished, avoiding rough edges. To me, it lacked contours, even though it definitely had drama. I felt that this was inappropriate showmanship. Occasionally, there seemed to be an excess in blurring through the sustain pedal. This was likely not bad use of the pedal, but mostly due to the combination of a modern grand piano and the fast tempo chosen.
Stravinsky: Sonate pour piano (1924)
Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971) composed his Sonate pour piano in 1924—in a period when he and other composers were looking back to classic and pre-classic music, “digesting” it by adopting features of these styles, even quoting compositions and styles in their compositions. The Piano Sonata is not using direct quotes, but it features melodies, themes that are very tonal, making it music that is rather easy to listen to and “understand”. The sonata features the following three movements:
- 1/4=112 [Moderato]
- 1/4=112 [Allegro moderato]
The original score only uses metronome numbers for the outer movements. The annotations Moderato and Allegro moderato are not the composer’s. Boris Berezovsky decided to move this sonata forward, between the Beethoven and the Bartók sonatas, mentioning that the audience would certainly realize why he adores this piece so much:
From here on, the artist truly was in his element! In the opening movement, the staccato accompaniment in the left hand was almost furiously fast, spookily scurrying along. The melody above this was singing nicely. It is wonderful music, overall! Berezovsky’s interpretation was enthralling, though clearly faster than the “1/4=112” given in the score.
The Adagietto was playful. Its middle part was more hesitant, melancholic, faltering in its flow, but with an impressive build-up / dynamic arch. The movement is highly polyrhythmic—which didn’t seem to present the slightest challenge to the artist.
The third movement resumes the staccato accompaniment and the tempo annotation from the beginning of the sonata, though it is more polyphonic. Berezovsky mastered the wild, virtuosic movement with its fugato passages almost playfully: excellent and impressive!
Bartók: Piano Sonata, Sz.80 / BB 88
- Allegro moderato
- Sostenuto e pesante
- Allegro molto
This is a fascinating composition: tonal, yet dissonant, highly percussive and rhythmic!
The queer, syncopated rhythms of the opening Allegro moderato really made Boris Berezovsky live up. He seemed to enjoy the percussive nature of this movement, with its impressive, noisy build-up towards the end.
Berezovsky played the central movement with differentiation, both in dynamics and in the keyboard touch. The music is dissonant, but more melodic than percussive. Its middle part sways between rebellion in pain and melancholic loneliness.
The final movement is wildly percussive. Still, this was not much of a challenge to Boris Berezovsky. In his hands, this was enthralling music, interwoven with Hungarian folk melodies, with a hefty, dissonant final build-up: excellent playing throughout!
Tchaikovsky: Dumka (Russian Rustic Scene), op.59
In lieu of the Ligeti Etudes and the three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (see above), Berezovsky decided to stay in the 19th century / late romantic period, and hence with more lyrical music—at least gradually. He decided to play four pieces by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893). At least the beginning of the Dumka (Russian Rustic Scene), op.59, composed 1886, is rather lyrical and atmospheric. Yet, in the middle part, there certainly is also virtuosity, building up to a dramatic climax, true fireworks, before the music returns to the calm atmosphere of the beginning. I liked Berezovsky’s playful, light interpretation, which exposed both the virtuosic, as well as the lyrical qualities of the artist.
Tchaikovsky: 3 Movements from “The Seasons”, op.37a
Next, Berezovsky selected three movements from “The Seasons”, op.37a by the same composer. The selection consisted of the following pieces:
- July: Song of the Reaper
- August: Harvest
- September: The Hunt
The choice was excellent: these three (out of 12) pieces are fitting together real well, both logically / from the subject (song of the reapers, harvest, hunting), as well as musically.
- No.7 (“July: Song of the Reaper”) was fluent, really atmospheric, full of momentum, yet transparent and playful.
- The outer segments of piece No.8 (“August: Harvest”) were virtuosic. They appeared scurrying along, while the middle part is almost pensive. I liked the witty, well-placed syncopes towards the end of the piece.
- Finally, No.9 (“September: The Hunt”): fast, agile, with an impressive build-up of horn calls—after the dogs have picked up the track and encircled the deer. I experienced this as very pictorial and enthralling at the same time!
Stravinsky: Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka
Berezovsky concluded the official part of his recital by returning to Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971). As originally announced, he played the well-known Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka, featuring the following movements:
- Danse russe (Russian Dance)
- Chez Pétrouchka (Petrushka’s Room)
- La semaine grasse (The Shrovetide Fair)
With this, the artist could once more expose the full power of his virtuosity. In his hands, the music appeared extremely acrobatic. It remained agile, always fluent, not overly percussive or noisy, more legato than precipitous. At the same time, the artist manages to expose lyric, melodious aspects, often by slightly taking back the tempo.
In the final movement, Berezovsky’s playing is extremely fast and fluent. Intermediately he switches to a slower pace in order to indulge in the percussive rhythms of the heavy parts. In dramatic build-ups, Berezovsky accumulates towering masses of sound—up to the effectful, concluding downward glissando. In this part, the pianist explored his physical limits, even missing (horribile dictu!) a few keys in the heat of the battle, though this was hardly noticed in the audience.
Stravinsky’s “Pétrouchka” is an absolute hit, especially in such an excellent performance! The audience was enthusiastic and applauded heavily. The artist enjoyed the applause as much as he seemed to like the outcome of the recital. It didn’t take long for him to decide for an encore, or rather three: after the second “curtain”, he announced a selection from the many Lyrical Pieces by Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907):
- Book_IV, op.47: No.3, “Melody”
- Book_V, op.54: No.3, “March of the Trolls”
- Book_VIII, op.65: No.6, “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen”
“Melodie”, op.47/3 is calm, pensive, lyrical and melodic in its character—quite a contrast to Stravinsky’s preceding acrobatics. The second selected piece, the famous “March of the Trolls”, op.54/3, is more virtuosic again (especially at Berezovsky’s tempo!), but playful in the middle part. The even more well-known “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen”, op.65/6, was a festive, joyful conclusion for this recital. This selection of encores allowed the pianist again to present the full scope of his abilities: his lyrical side for painting musical landscapes, as well as the stupendous power of his virtuosity.
One may have mixed feelings about last-minute or even spontaneous program changes. However, in the end, I found the program convincing, compelling overall, even made me forget what I didn’t like about the Beethoven. Boris Berezovsky is a fascinating artist, certainly for the late romantic and the newer, virtuosic repertoire.
For the same concert, I have also written a (much shorter) review in German for Bachtrack.com. This posting is not a translation of that German review, the rights of which remain with Bachtrack. I create the German review using a subset of the notes taken during this concert. I wanted to enable my non-German speaking readers to read about my concert experience as well. Therefore, I have taken my original notes as a loose basis for this separate posting. I’m including additional material that is not present in the Bachtrack review.