Piano Recital: Maxim Lando
Tchaikovsky / Liszt
Klavierissimo Festival 2023
KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2023-02-23
2023-03-16 — Original posting
Technische Exzesse: Maxim Lando am Klavierissimo Festival 2023— Zusammenfassung
Das Rezital des 2002 im Staat New York geborenen und aufgewachsenen Amerikanischen Pianisten Maxim Lando war ursprünglich für 2021 geplant, musste aber aufgrund der Pandemie verschoben werden. Er begann schon als Dreijähriger, Klavier zu spielen. Ernsthafte Studien auf diesem Instrument folgten im Alter von 10, zuerst am New England Conservatory in Boston, danach im Pre-College der Juilliard School in New York. Ab 2013 wurde er von Lang Lang (*1982) und dessen Lang International Music Foundation gefördert.
Der Künstler präsentierte ein zweiteiliges Programm, bestehend aus Zyklen von jeweils 12 Stücken / Sätzen. Der erste Zyklus war “Les Saisons” (Die Jahreszeiten), op.37a von Pjotr Iljitsch Tschaikowsky (1840 – 1893). Es sind dies 12 Charakterstücke, eines für jeden Monat. Der Aufführung von Maxim Lando fehlte die Atmosphäre, die melancholische Grundstimmung, die dem Zyklus in Aufführungen russischer Pianisten innewohnt. Da war zuviel Fokus auf Virtuosität und pianistische Brillianz.
Die zweite Hälfte des Konzerts gehörte ganz den 12 Études d’exécution transcendente, S.139 von Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886). Es sind dies 12 Klavierstudien von C-dur über alle ♭-Tonarten bis b-moll, deren gefürchtete technische Anforderungen zu den höchsten in der ganzen Klavierliteratur gehören. Nicht ganz überraschend nutzte Maxim Lando diese 12 Sätze (zusammen eine volle Stunde) zur Demonstration seiner stupenden klaviertechnischen Fähigkeiten. Leider war dabei vieles übertrieben, sowohl in extremen Tempi, wie auch in der Dynamik, welche die Kapazitäten des Instruments (Steinway D-274) oftmals überstiegen. Eine Art olympischer Wettstreit—mit Liszt, oder mit sich selbst?
Als Zugabe spielte Maxim Lando eine Improvisation (oder eine freie Fantasie?) über “Stairway to Heaven” (1971) der Englischen Rockband Led Zeppelin.
Table of Contents
- Concert & Review
- Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, op.37a
- Composer & Work
- The Performance
- Liszt: 12 Etudes d’exécution transcendente , S.139
- Encore — Improvisation on “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
- Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, op.37a
|Venue, Date & Time||Aula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2023-02-23 19:30h|
|Series / Title||Klavierissimo Festival 2023|
|Organizer||Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland|
|Reviews from related events||Reviews from Klavierissimo Festivals: 2018 | 2019 | 2020 (Beethoven) | 2022 | 2023|
Concerts organized by Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland
Concerts in the Aula of the KZO, Wetzikon ZH
The Klavierissimo Festival 2023
- 2023-02-22 19:30h: Alexander Lonquich
- 2023-02-23 19:30h: Maxim Lando (this review)
- 2023-02-24 19:30h: Claire Huangci
The Artist: Maxim Lando
The American pianist Maxim Lando (*2002 in Manhasset, NY, see also Wikipedia) grew up in Great Neck on Long Island, NY. He started playing the piano at age 3. He began studying piano at 10, first in a preparatory class at the New England Conservatory in Boston and then at the Juilliard School‘s Pre-College in New York. Starting in 2013, Maxim Lando received support by Lang Lang (*1982) and earned a sponsorship from the Lang International Music Foundation. With the numerous awards that he received, Maxim Lando launched a successful, busy concert career with performances not just in the U.S., but also throughout Europe.
Maxim Lando’s appearance at the Klavierissimo Festival was originally scheduled for 2021, but had to be canceled / postponed due to the pandemic.
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893): The Seasons, op.37a
- Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886): 12 Études d’exécution transcendente, S.139
The concert venue, a high school convention hall in the form of a semi-circular theater (in a circular building) can hold audiences of up to around 350 people. The Klavierissimo Festival rarely fills it to more than 30 – 40%. I took a seat in the upper third, in the right hand side block. The acoustics are perfect in that position, the view excellent, especially for taking photos.
The instrument was a Steinway D-274 concert grand in excellent condition, prepared by Bachmann Pianos, Wetzikon.
Concert & Review
Tchaikovsky: The Seasons, op.37a
Composer & Work
Maxim Lando started his recital with the piano cycle “Les Saisons” (The Seasons), op.37a (or op.37b) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893). That’s a cycle of twelve catchy, but technically not necessarily easy character pieces, composed around 1886.
- Janvier (Au coin du feu / “At the fireplace”)
Moderato semplice, ma espressivo — Meno mosso — Tempo I
- Février (Carnaval / “Carnival”)
Allegro giusto — L’istesso tempo
- Mars (Chant de l’alouette / “Song of the lark”)
Andantino espressivo — Un pochetino più mosso
- Avril (Perce-neige / “Snowdrop”)
Allegretto con moto e un poco rubato
- Mai (Les nuits de mai / “The nights of May”)
Andantino — Allegretto giocoso — Poco meno mosso — Andantino
- Juin (Barcarolle)
Andante cantabile — Poco più mosso — Allegro giocoso — Tempo I
- Juillet (Chant du faucheur / *The reaper’s song*)
Allegro moderato con moto
- Août (La moisson / *The harvest*)
Allegro vivace — Dolce cantabile — Tempo I
- Septembre (La chasse / “The hunt”)
Allegro non troppo
- Octobre (Chant d’automne / “Autumn song”)
Andante doloroso e molto cantabile
- Novembre (Troïka)
- Décembre (Noël / “Christmas”)
Tempo di Valse — Trio — Tempo di Valse — Coda
I have written about earlier concert performances (partial and full) of Tchaikovsky’s op.37a. In addition, back in 2014, I have briefly reviewed a CD recording with the same work.
- Precociousness: Tchaikovsky was 46 when he wrote “Les Saisons“. Today, that still sounds relatively young, or “the best of the ages”. However, 140 years ago, that age didn’t feel the same as now. The composer died when he was 53. Maxim Lando now is just 21. Therefore, those childhood memories can’t be all that far away (relatively speaking, at least). Tchaikovsky may indeed have composed this while looking back at his childhood. However, he certainly did so from a very different, much more difficult situation in life than that of a young, splendid pianist skyrocketing into a successful international career.
- Naivety: everything the pianist said (and more) is already present in the titles for these 12 movements. Hence, these explanations added very little extra information. Other than about the artist’s personality. And it evades me what “Harry Potter” and/or “The Lord of the Rings” (books / films that the artist grew up with) should have to do with Tchaikovsky’s “walk through the months”.
I. Janvier (Au coin du feu)
In the very first notes of the main theme, I did sense the reflective, slightly melancholic mood that I associate with this piece. Soon, though, the artist started using strong rubato. There were excursions to rather lively (if not youthful) moments. The leggierissimo passages were rather fast (too fast?). And why with that much pedal? In the fast moments, the performance was maybe too youthful (where is the fireplace?). This certainly was the artist’s very personal view. I don’t mean to say that one should necessarily imitate the big Russian pianists in this. However, I think it is for good reason that these exhibit more melancholy.
Apart from the aforementioned pedaling, Maxim Lando followed the composer’s notation (rubato is not found in the score). There were no technical superficialities. Yet, to me, the interpretation lacked depth and atmosphere.
II. Février (Carnaval)
The artist started with a fast tempo already, but then kept accelerating, aggressively storming forward. Virtuosic, true, and technically excellent. However, fast enough for many of the fast semiquaver motifs to lose quality, of not sound superficial. The exaggerations, extreme agogics / accelerations, etc. turned the piece into a sometimes grotesque caricature. I don’t think the composer meant this to be a virtuosic showpiece.
III. Mars (Chant de l’alouette)
Here, the tempo went to the other extreme. It may have been an Andantino on the quavers. Note, however, that the movement is in 2/4 time. Then, there also was arbitrariness in the way in which the artist accelerated in the ascending semiquaver figures (in the Un pochetino più mosso). Yes, the right hand nicely depicted birds singing. Birds rarely sing strictly metrically. Here, though, the tempo variations bordered on grotesqueness. Note that March in Russia is not spring. The underlying poem presumably rather meant to depict the longing for the lark’s song. Longing, melancholy, but not sadness and resignation.
IV. Avril (Perce-neige)
Tchaikovsky explicitly wanted the artist to mark the melody, which Maxim Lando definitely did. However, the pace was again too fast, already in the outer part (Allegretto in 6/8 time!), let alone in the middle section, where the ascending semiquaver figures were erupting aggressively, shooting up like rockets. The extreme tempo variations were far more than “un poco rubato“.
V. Mai (Les nuits de mai)
The Andantino: the best part so far—lovely! The middle part (Allegretto giocoso) was of course technically flawless. Yet, to me, it felt musically slightly superficial. Giocoso: isn’t that playfully, rather than jokingly?
VI. Juin (Barcarolle)
I again liked the outer (Andante cantabile) parts. Cantabile, indeed, maybe with a slight excess in sustain pedal. The Poco più mosso is marked p, ma poco a poco crescendo. Maxim Lando combined this with a fairly marked accelerando, and consequently, the Allegro giocoso ended up as an exaggerated outburst, rather than a playful middle part.
VII. Juillet (Chant du faucheur)
Pianistically excellent, virtuosic, with a good tempo in the main theme. But why then this extreme acceleration to a highly virtuosic, eruptive (rather than atmospheric) climax. Is this the place to demonstrate pianistic fireworks?
VIII. Août (La moisson)
A pianistic excess in the Allegro vivace part, even more than the preceding movement. What does this virtuosic outburst have to do with harvesting? Not surprisingly, the contrast to the Dolce cantabile was extreme. That middle part was atmospheric, despite the fairly prominent rubato. It didn’t offer compensation for the excesses in pianistic brilliance in the outer parts. The end felt like a showpiece, not more.
The impression of pianistic showpieces were associated with theatrical gestures and facial mimics
IX. Septembre (La chasse)
Too pianistic and entirely lacking atmosphere, erratic in the rubato, often just storming forward. With imagination, one could picture a variety of sceneries. To me, hunting was not among them.
X. Octobre (Chant d’automne)
This one—for a change—was fairly slow (Adagio other than Andante). Too slow, with excesses in rubato: the pianist focused entirely on the quavers in the melody line. These were indeed cantabile, i.e., nicely singing, also when the melody moved into the middle voice. However, the cantabile went at the cost of a highly erratic flow, in which the left hand chords / harmonies appeared disconnected. The one highlight here was the very subtle pppp in the morendo ending.
XI. Novembre (Troïka)
I quite liked the opening part: atmospheric and appropriate for Allegro moderato. Things started to “fall apart” with the appearance of quaver triplets inn the descant (bars #11, #15ff), which were rather irregular, not triplets. With the f in bar #18, the gestures turned (too) grandiose, the agogics excessive.
With the grazioso, however, the artist “let his horses loose”: the tempo now was so fast that not only did the performance sound superficial, but there were indeed missing notes, and the sempre staccato in the right hand semiquavers might as well have been legato. The dynamics were exaggerated, even gross. If properly executed, one might have called it technically brilliant and virtuosic. Musically, the performance was a failure.
XII. Décembre (Noël)
Superficial in the fast figures, grotesque in the exaggerated accents, the extreme agogics / rubato. Erratic, even weird “agogics” also in the Trio, where again the fast figures were mere show, lacking depth and expression.
I can’t deny the artist’s enormous pianistic abilities: agility, virtuosity, speed. However, based on this performance I concluded that this is not music for today’s fast lived youth. Even though I can’t say that the performance was “bad”, I was still disappointed, given the (excessively?) high expectations…
Liszt: 12 Etudes d’exécution transcendente, S.139
Composer & Work
- Preludio (C major)
- Fusées (“fireworks”, A minor)
Molto vivace — Prestissimo
- Paysage (“landscape”, F major)
Poco adagio — Un poco più animato il tempo
- Mazeppa (D minor)
Allegro — Animato — Allegro deciso — Più moderato
- Feux follets (“Will-o’-the-wisp”, B♭ major)
- Vision (G minor)
- Eroica (E♭ major)
Allegro — Tempo di marcia — Animato il tempo
- Wilde Jagd (“wild chase / hunt”, C minor)
- Ricordanza (“memories”, A♭ major)
Andantino (improvisato) — Un poco animato — Vivamente
- Appassionata (F minor)
Allegro agitato molto
- Harmonies du soir (“evening harmonies”, D♭ major)
Andantino — Poco più mosso — Più lento con intimissimo sentimento — Molto animato
- Chasse neige (“snow storm”, B♭ minor)
Andante con moto
This was the first time that I witnessed a complete performance of Liszt’s 12 Études d’exécution transcendante. There was one single instance where I heard a small subset being performed in concert, back on 2017-03-27.
In his Transcendental Etudes, Liszt followed the circle of fifths, covering all major and minor “flat” keys. Liszt left the cycle incomplete, i.e., without the part covering the “sharp” keys. Only in 1897 – 1905, the Russian pianist and composer Sergei Mikhailovich Lyapunov (Серге́й Миха́йлович Ляпуно́в, 1859 – 1924) ventured completing the cycle. This resulted in his 12 Études dʹexécution transcendante, op.11, some of which are known for their excruciating challenges. I heard a subset of 6 of Lyapunov’s complementary studies in a concert on 2017-04-11.
For the second half of the concert, Maxim Lando dropped his dark suit in favor of dark trousers and a striking bright red shirt. He obviously meant to set the listener’s expectations straight even before starting on the Études dʹexécution transcendante. Needless to say that he followed up on this “promise”.
An impressive opening, no doubt! Not just in tempo and agility, but at least as much in the power: pianism in big, huge gestures. Maxim Lando was not only fast, but he even accelerated the chord sequences (bars #9 – #11) that lead to the fff trill chain. As the latter descended to G, in a dramatic crescendo, the pianist drove the instrument to its sonoric limits, if not slightly beyond—already!
Too fast. The performance may have been physically athletic / olympic, however, there was often no notion of a musical / rhythmic flow, as the artist used extreme rubato even between / within bars. The listener often had no chance of following what the artist actually was playing. I don’t think Liszt meant to compose “mere noise”. Sadly, this is what I heard in most of this piece.
This may have been the best of the studies in this performance: serene, calm cantilenas (reminded me of what I expected in Tchaikovsky’s Les Saisons!), balanced sonority, highlighting the melodies in every voice. Also the Un poco più animato il tempo was expressive and peaceful, following a calm base pace (except for a short stringendo around the climax).
Back to extremes! Starting with a strong stringendo in the opening chords, the artist threw himself into the Cadenza ad libitum. And he did so at a tempo which made the notes undiscernible. The same continued with the semiquavers in the center of the subsequent Allegro: these small notes just added noise to the melody in the extremes. And there were mishaps. I don’t expect perfection, but if the artist provokes mishaps by tempo excesses, then I see a reason to criticize. But true: watching the artist perform the triple octave parallels at neck-breaking speed as a jaw dropping experience.
There weren’t just mishaps—the artist’s tempo was too fast for (any) piano mechanics to follow (execute properly). There wasn’t sloppiness on the part of the artist-though: one could clearly see that every muscle in his body was under utmost tension and focus. Consequently, he never lost tension (rather, there was too much of it!).
The B♭ major section formed a window of beauty and peace, with the beautiful, expressive, even lyrical cantilena in the center. Needless to say, though, that also this brief idyl soon turned stormy, leading into another neck-breaking cadenza and triple octave parallels. The Animato segment (D minor again) is marked leggiero (though with marcato marks on every chord). Here, this was rather brutal, hard.
Maxim Lando accelerated again in the Allegro deciso, ending up with numerous mishaps. The result was a noisy performance that completely drowned Liszt’s harmonies and intended dissonances! I felt sorry for the instrument.
V. Feux follets
Blazing speed in the fast figures, virtuosic. However, completely missing the eerie atmosphere that I associated with “Will-o’-the-wisp”. Yes, the virtuosity was astounding. But the fast tempo caused a number of mishaps and unclarities. Also, the pace blurred the details. It caused the listener to miss out on details in the passagework (and again Liszt’s intended dissonances). No, I did not picture feux follets. Just ordinary (dense) fireworks.
I know artists (notably violinists!) who claim that performing music should be a matter of life and death. In other words: if one always “plays safe”, the result will be dead music. Here, the artist definitely risked a lot. He did so to the point where things started to break. Simply put: too much risk, aiming too high, and missing the target.
This movement often features a dialog between two melody voices (one at the top, one hidden in the center). Here, the performance mostly showed a competition between one melody and the virtuosic broken chord in-between. Ideally, I think that the latter should merely form the backdrop, not drown the melodies in noise. Needless to say that for the right hand, the artist typically selected the more challenging ossia version, where present (I had the score, but was not able to follow that in every detail).
The best part here was the Tempo di marcia, which appeared to allude to a march. In the the other parts, though, I did not picture heroism. Rather: fireworks, or maybe dramatic scenes in a battlefield? Virtuosity, yes, and power, if not occasionally brute force at the limits of the instrument or beyond…
VIII. Wilde Jagd
A wild chase?? Barely. To me, a chase involves somebody hunting, running behind a prey. There was barely any running / chasing here. Just wild, spasmatic / erratic outbursts, with intermittent eruptions / cascades of ultra-fast motifs, often forming an indiscriminate mash. And in the middle part, the semiquavers in the punctuated chord motifs were so short / fast that they were close to imperceptible. An olympic performance with very limited effect.
In the dreamy first 3 bars, I’m not sure whether dolce, con grazia means as mellow, if not blurry as we heard it here. Liszt’ has no pedaling in these bars. Pedal marks only start in bar #4. But expressive it definitely was (more than atmospheric, though). Needless to say that Maxim Lando unleashed the stupendous agility of his fingers in the demisemiquaver cadenza, before the Andantino theme returns, with its short and catchy, but beautifully melodic theme. Thereafter, that theme persists as mere echo / memory (Ricordanza?!) in a web of virtuosic demisemiquaver runs and parades. Only episodically, it returns in its initial form. Beautiful music, no doubt—in a “young” interpretation, of course.
Passionate, yes—and urging, fast. Brilliant, no doubt, maybe even an olympic achievement, but also too fast. Not only was it hard or impossible to “read” the fast passages, but also the musical flow was often confusing (e.g., in the alternation between “shivering” passages and the intermittent, ultra-fast passages). And the final stretta felt like pure chaos.
XI. Harmonies du soir
To me, not the pianistic excesses were the highlight in this performance. Rather, the few poetic, calm and serene moments—like the beginning of this study No.11 (or the third study, Paysage). I also enjoyed Liszt’s grandiose arches. There, the artist’s focus indeed appeared to be on expression, rather than virtuosity. Also the central Più lento con intimo sentimento was calm, expressive, lyrical.
Needless to say that Liszt would not end the piece like that. Rinforzando motifs in the bass announce the sonoric excesses in the final part, Molto animato, trionfante. That was not only the pianist, though, but the composer’s virtuosic outburst. Here, Maxim Lando drove the sonority in to an area “beyond esthetics”. Where’s the connection to “evening harmonies” in this? Well, at least the dolce, armonico ending with its arpeggios returned to the atmosphere of the opening bars…
XII. Chasse neige
And, of course, the artist took the opportunity of No.12 to show off his virtuosic powers again, and Liszt’s dense, tremulating textures, their dramatic build-up proved the ideal tool for a demonstration in power. Not for the first time, though, the artist drove the piece into sonoric excesses. After the dramatic, ascending parallel, then then diverging chromatic scale and a fermata (following the climax), Liszt moves into the coda with ff. The artist’s temperament changed this to fff, if not more. I can’t speak for the artist. To me, as a listener, though, this ended a rather exhausting hour! The long silence after the performance (up to the applause) probably wasn’t so much because the audience was moved or raptured by emotions, but sheer exhaustion and overpowerment.
Overall Rating: ★★★½
Encore — Improvisation on “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin
Maxim Lando’s announced his encore as “Stairway to Heaven“ (released 1971), one of the most iconic songs of the English rock band Led Zeppelin. The band existed 1968 – 1980, so it’s not exactly the artist’s generation. However, it’s obviously a song which resonated with many in the audience. Wikipedia states that it’s “the most requested and most played song on American rock radio in the 1970s” and “widely regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time“.
Maxim Lando’s encore was of course not a transcription, but rather a fantasy on the main theme of the rock song. This soon took off into areas of post-romantic and impressionist sonorities, to virtuosic excursions, and to areas of boogie-woogie and ragtime: I sensed allusions to music by Scott Joplin (1868 – 1917). The encore was certainly pleasant and entertaining—American style, I guess? An expression of the artist’s personality more than rounding off the evening through a complementary or harmoniously fitting piece.
First and foremost: tMaxim Lando performed the entire program by heart, which is incredible and cannot be understated. The fact that in the “heat of the battle” some passages lacked clarity or sounded exaggerated does not imply neglect or carelessness on the part of the artist. To the contrary, he was highly engaged at all times. Occasional overshooting can be attributed to his youth.
From the artist’s biography it was clear whose brainchild he is: his key supporter / promoter, Lang Lang, is known to pursue his own career under the premise of wanting to be “the best”. I’m weary of superlatives in music: to me, it is far more important that artists develop their own, genuine personality. Physical power, technical prowess, agility and speed are helpful ingredients, but can’t be the main objective in an artist’s life.