Piano Recital: Konstantin Scherbakov
Debussy / Schumann / Beethoven – Liszt

Klavierissimo Festival 2022
Aula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 15h30

0.5-star rating

2022-03-14 — Original posting


Konstantin Scherbakov, Aula, Alte Kantonsschule, Zurich, 2020-01-25 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Konstantin Scherbakov (© Rolf Kyburz)

Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeAula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-24 19:30h
Series / TitleKlavierissimo Festival 2022
OrganizerTop Klassik Zürcher Oberland
Reviews from related eventsReviews from Klavierissimo Festivals: 2018 | 2019 | 2020 (Beethoven) | 2022
Concerts organized by Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland
Concerts in the Aula of the KZO, Wetzikon ZH
Review from Konstantin Scherbakov’s 2021 recital with same program (2021-11-09)
Previous piano recitals with Konstantin Scherbakov

Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26
Konstantin Scherbakov @ Klavierissimo 2022, Wetzikon ZH, 2022-02-26 (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

The Klavierissimo Festival 2022

The Klavierissimo Festival is an annual event that takes place in the main convention hall of the regional high school (KZO, Kantonsschule Zürcher Oberland) in Wetzikon ZH (close to Zurich). For concert reviews from earlier instances of the Festival see the set of links (first line in the “Reviews from related events” box above). The Festival runs over four days. This year, it happened between 2022-02-23 and 2022-03-26. It featured a series of piano recitals, culminating in several of recitals on the last day. I managed to attend five of these recitals:


Konstantin Scherbakov

Over the past 7.5 years, I have witnessed the Russian-Swiss pianist Konstantin Scherbakov (*1963 in Barnaul, Siberia, see also Wikipedia) in numerous solo recitals (see the link above)—this is my review #11 on this artist. To me, this particular, most recent recital was actually an almost exact “repeat experience”, in that I have witnessed Konstantin Scherbakov performing exactly the same program almost 4 months ago (see the link above), except that this time, there was no time for an encore.


Program


An Unusual Review, for Once

As mentioned above, I have already reviewed exactly the same program with Konstantin Scherbakov just four months ago. Needless to say that the artist’s interpretation has not undergone fundamental changes since last fall. Yet, I did not want to miss the opportunity to witness Konstantin Scherbakov’s performance. In parts, I did this because the Klavierissimo Festival happens very close to where I live, and because I know and appreciate the artist’s superb qualities.

Moreover, this “repeat performance” offered a chance to compensate for some minor shortcomings in the concert on 2021-11-09, namely better acoustics, better concert atmosphere (and better conditions for taking photos). Most importantly, though, the Klavierissimo offered a bigger and more appropriate instrument (see below). It’s not just the artist’s favorite concert grand, but also the instrument that is better suited for the works performed by Konstantin Scherbakov in this recital (and for the way in which he performs them).

However, I don’t want to duplicate my comments from last year’s instance. Therefore, in this review, I decided to keep my comments at the absolute minimum. In compensation for the scarcity of these comments, I’m adding a generous number of photos. To see them at full resolution, click on any of the pictures to switch to slide show mode. With the obvious exception of the composers’ portraits, all pictures are by the author (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved).


Setting, etc.

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

Claude Debussy, 1890
Claude Debussy, 1890

Debussy: Suite bergamasque, L.75

Composer & Work

Claude Debussy (1833 – 1897) began composing his Suite bergamasque, L.75, in 1890. That version did undergo significant changes for the publication in 1905, though.

  1. Prélude: Moderato (tempo rubato)
  2. Menuet: Andante
  3. Clair de lune: Andante très expressif
  4. Passepied: Allegretto ma non troppo

The third movement, Clair de lune, refers to a poème with that title by Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896). In the first stanza, that poème mentions masques et bergamasques. The latter (Bergamask, a dance in the region of Bergamo) inspired the title of the suite. Clair de lune made the Suite bergamasque one of Debussy’s most popular piano works.

The Performance

Basically, see my earlier review for detailed comments on Konstantin Scherbakov’s interpretation. For this recital, just a set of brief remarks. These are not necessarily specific to the given movement: most are generic, i.e., for all four movements. I’m just adding them here in the order in which I find them in my notes from the concert:

I. Prélude: Moderato (tempo rubato)

Yes: as suspected, a more suited, more atmospheric venue, better acoustics. And, most importantly, a better instrument. As in the earlier concert, I found Konstantin Scherbakov’s interpretation to feature structural clarity, without feeling exceedingly dry or analytical. On the other hand, the articulation is clear enough to avoid excess romanticisms. The latter also applies to the artist’s agogics.

II. Menuet: Andante

Relaxed, clarity, serenity.

III. Clair de lune: Andante très expressif

Serene, beautiful—an artist who puts himself into the service of the music he plays. There is never an element of “showing off” in his performance.

IV. Passepied: Allegretto ma non troppo

Clarity and playfulness—but at the same time respecting the piece’s thoughtful, often moody, sometimes pensive atmosphere. And, of course, perfect control over the instrument’s sonority, and maintaining perfect dynamic balance between the voices, and paying attention to the “inner” melodies.


Robert Schumann, by M. Lämmel
Robert Schumann, by M. Lämmel

Schumann: Faschingsschwank aus Wien, op.26

Composer & Work

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) began composing his Faschingsschwank aus Wien, op.26, in 1839 in Vienna, then featuring four movements. He completed the work (Carnival Scenes from Vienna, or Carnival Jest from Vienna) upon his return to Leipzig, by adding one more piece. Thus, as published by Schumann’s wife, Clara Schumann (1819 – 1996), op.26 has five movements:

  1. Allegro: Sehr lebhaft (very lively)
  2. Romanze: Ziemlich langsam (Pretty slow)
  3. Scherzino
  4. Intermezzo: Mit größter Energie (With the greatest energy)
  5. Finale: Höchst lebhaft (Highly vivid) — Presto

Some people noted that Faschingsschwank includes the character / tone sequence ASCH-SCHA, which Schumann already referred to in his Carnaval (Carnival), op.9 from 1834 – 1835. The Wikipedia entry for the latter gives detailed background information on the topic of ASCH-SCHA. Just for clarification: ASCH translates to the notes A, Es, C, H in German terminology, or A, E♭, C, B in Anglo-Saxon terminology.

The Performance

Basically, see my earlier review for detailed comments on Konstantin Scherbakov’s interpretation. For this recital, just briefly:

I. Allegro: Sehr lebhaft

Schumann is seen as a romantic composer. However, he also was an intellectual (and he could just as well have made a career as a writer). From that, I think it is perfectly adequate that the artist avoided romanticisms, e.g., though excess use of the sustain pedal. Throughout his vast repertoire, Konstantin Scherbakov never shows excess blurring—he always uses the pedal either as prescribed by the notation, or otherwise very sparingly, just to enhance the sound.

In line with this, the artist also avoids excess rubato. In the theme, for example, he just used a tad more broadening / agogics to highlight transitions and “local climaxes”. Otherwise, it mostly felt like a classical composition. To me, this is totally appropriate in this movement, which often strongly reminds of the Fantasie in C major, op.15, D.960 (“Wanderer Fantasy”) which Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828) wrote 1822—and which is an example of the classical part of Schubert’s character.

I could again mention the clarity in the performance, the natural, “integrated” transitions. And despite the allurion to carnival in the title of the piece, the interpretation never has aspects of a caricature.

II. Romanze: Ziemlich langsam

Excellent in the warm p / pp sonorities. In my previous review, I referred to this as a Lied ohne Worte (song without words). And indeed, the first part feels like a recitativo accompagnato. The second part (C major, 3/4 time), however, expressed infinite sadness, longing, and melancholy—and in its harmonies, it felt like an anticipation of the theme in Schumann’s last work, the Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations), WoO 24.

III. Scherzino

Such clarity in the structured dynamics! The second part, starting with the ff blocks, and up to the joking closure, is the one place (so far) that appeared to allude to carnival.

IV. Intermezzo: Mit größter Energie

Now, this really was a Lied ohne Worte! Its long, prominent, highly expressive melody line is going through an emotional climax, then retracting (resigning?) in the darkness of the bass. In Konstantin Scherbakov’s interpretation, the middle voice with its constant semiquaver figures remained clear at all time. Yet, its virtuosity remained totally inconspicuous.

V. Finale: Höchst lebhaft — Presto

A highly virtuosic, challenging movement. However, with this artist, virtuosity is not a “feature”, merely a tool that is needed in order to explore the expressive scope of the (often explosive) emotional turmoil, the eruptions in this movement.


Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Franz Liszt, 1858
Franz Liszt, 1858

Beethoven / Liszt: Symphony No.7 in A major, op.72 / S.464/7

Composer & Work

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) composed his Symphony No.7 in A major, op.92 in 1811/1812. I have posted a detailed comparison of over 10 recordings and will not add more description here. In addition, I have posted reviews from several concerts with this symphony in the original, orchestral version. Here, I’m therefore just giving the list of the movements.

  1. Poco sostenuto (4/4, 1/4 = 69) – Vivace (6/8, 3/8 = 104)
  2. Allegretto (2/4, 1/4 = 76)
  3. Presto (3/4, 3/4 = 132) – Assai meno presto (3/4, 3/4 = 82)
  4. Allegro con brio (2/4, 1/2 = 72)

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) finished transcribing Beethoven’s symphonies 5, 6, and 7 in 1837. Only symphonies #5 and #6 were published at that time, though. Liszt did transcribe more of Beethoven’s symphonies in the years that followed. However, it was only further developments in piano technique that ultimately made a complete set look feasible. So, Liszt “recycled” his first set of transcriptions and completed the set. He did make adjustments (few simplifications) to the original transcriptions. The full set was ultimately published 1865, dedicated to the conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow (1830 – 1894).

The Performance

Basically, see my earlier review for detailed comments on Konstantin Scherbakov’s interpretation. For this recital, just briefly:

No, it was not the feast of pianism, nor the opportunity for expressive excursions and showing off virtuosic fireworks, let alone bombastic sonority. In his performance, Konstantin Scherbakov stayed with what Franz Liszt intended: to bring Beethoven’s symphonies to audiences which otherwise don’t have access to symphonic concert. It is indicative that Liszt “decorated” his transcription score with instrumentation marks from the orchestral score: one finds annotations such as “Fiati“, “Vl.II, Vlc., Bassi“, etc.—this indicates that the artist is to imitate the characteristics of these (groups of) instruments.

That said: it was obvious that in comparison to the earlier recital in Zurich, the performance profited from the bigger sonority, the sound scope of the larger instrument. And I enjoyed how the artist managed to maintain structural clarity across the first movement (the repeated exposition, the development part, the recapitulation, the coda).

Even though Konstantin Scherbakov did not produce a “virtuosic show”, one should keep in mind that the pianistic challenges in this transcription are huge. Not only technically and physically, but also “just” memorizing the work, e.g., the formal “labyrinth” of the last movement. Needless to say that the artist performed from memory—and he has performed Liszt’s transcriptions of all nine Beethoven symphonies over the past (see below).


Photos and Emotions

From a distance in the audience, one may have easily the impression of “total objectivity”, as Konstantin Scherbakov exerts very little body motion, his arm movements are usually minimal. Even his face appears to keep emotions locked away. Yet, as one looks closer one realizes that his mimics show anything but a “stone face”. I can’t resist adding some extra remarks here:

The situation in this concert was unusual, as in this very week, the Kremlin just started a cruel, atrocious, and absurdly unjustified war against Ukraine, causing unimaginable damage, human pain and suffering. Konstantin Scherbakov is not the person to make a big public statement about the political situation in his home country. However, I know that he and his wife, Nina Orotchko, were (and still are) in total shock and devastated about these events.

It is possible, if not likely that Konstantin Scherbakov’s face has shown more emotions than in other recitals. Some of the pictures included here may hint at this. However, I was trying my best to be careful and respectful with the selection of the photos (as I always do, not only with this artist). I believe that none of them is inappropriate is disfiguring in any way. But still, I hope and expect that visitors to this review keep that in mind and treat contents and images with the appropriate respect.


Konstantin Scherbakov: Beethoven, Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8 in Franz Liszt’s piano transcription (part of the complete set shown below)

Liszt / Beethoven: Symphony Nos.7 & 8 — Scherbakov; CD cover

Franz Liszt: Beethoven, Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8, piano transcriptions

Konstantin Scherbakov, piano

Naxos 8.557856 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2006
Booklet: 8 pp. en/de

Liszt / Beethoven: Symphonies Nos.7 & 8 — Scherbakov; CD, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link

Konstantin Scherbakov: Beethoven, Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9 in Franz Liszt’s piano transcription

Liszt / The Beethoven Symphonies — Scherbakov; CD cover

Franz Liszt: Beethoven, Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9, piano transcriptions

Konstantin Scherbakov, piano

Naxos 8.505219 (5 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1998 – 2006 / © 2006
Booklets with the individual CDs, typically 8 pp., en/de/fr

Liszt / The Beethoven Symphonies — Scherbakov; CD, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link
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