Piano Recital Ivan Bašić
Bach / Haydn / Ravel / Liszt

Alte Kantonsschule, Zurich, 2024-05-11

4-star rating

2024-05-27 — Original posting

Ivan Bašić in einer Klavier-Matinee mit breitem Repertoire — Zusammenfassung

Der serbische Pianist Ivan Bašić (*1996) lebt seit 2017 in Zürich, wo er bei Konstantin Scherbakov (*1963) an der ZHdK studierte. In der (leider vorerst letzten) Matinee im Rahmen von “Musik an ETHZ und UZH” präsentierte der Pianist in der Aula der Alten Kantonsschule ein Solorezital mit breitem Repertoire. Ivan Bašić eröffnete den ersten Teil mit der Toccata Nr.5 in e-moll, BWV 914 von Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), gefolgt von der Klaviersonate Nr.49 in cis-moll, Hob.XVI/36 von Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809).

Es folgten zwei Kompositionen von Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). Zunächst das Menuet sur le nom de Haydn, M.58, das 1909 im Rahmen einer Reihe von Auftragswerken zu Haydns hundertstem Todestag entstand. Ein erster Höhepunkt des Rezitals war dann Jeux d’eau, M.30, eine virtuose Komposition, in der Ivan Bašić seine Fingerfertigkeit und die Kunst des kontrollierten und differenzierten Anschlags demonstrieren konnte.

Der zweite Teil des Rezitals war ganz Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) gewidmet. Ivan Bašić eröffnete mit Nr.4, Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este aus der Suite Années de Pèlerinage, Troisième Année, S.163, vermutlich ein Vorbild für Ravels “Jeux d’eau“. Als “Intermezzo” folgte die Bagatelle sans tonalité, S.216a (der Mephisto-Walzer Nr.4). Den krönenden Abschluss bildete schließlich die Transkription (Konzertparaphrase) der Ouvertüre zu Richard Wagners “Tannhäuser”, S.442—eine kräftezehrende, hochvirtuose Parforceleistung, die Ivan Bašić mit Bravour meisterte.

Die überwältigenden Eindrücke der Wagner-Transkription machten eine Zugabe schwierig. Doch der Pianist traf eine ausgezeichnete Wahl: einen vierstimmigen Hymnus aus der orthodoxen Liturgie, eine Komposition des “Vaters der serbischen Musik”, Stevan Mokranjac (1856 – 1914).

Table of Contents


Venue, Date & TimeAula of the Alte Kantonsschule Zürich, 2024-05-11 11:30h
Series / TitleMusik an ETHZ und UZH — Piano Recital Ivan Bašić
OrganizerMusical Discovery
Reviews from related eventsPrevious recitals at the Alte Kantonsschule Zürich
Previous Concerts in the Series “Musik an der ETH und UZH

The Artist

Ivan Bašić (*1996) grew up in Belgrade, Serbia, where he also studied with the late Nevena Popović (Невена Поповић, 1955 – 2016). In 2017, Ivan Bašić moved to Zurich, where he studied with Konstantin Scherbakov (*1963) at the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts). Ivan serves as artistic assistant in Konstantin Scherbakov’s piano class. The also attended master classes with pianists such as Boris Petrushansky (*1949), Jacques Rouvier (*1947), Vovka Ashkenazy (*1961) and Stephen Kovachevich (Bishop-Kovachevich, *1940). In addition to his career as soloist and chamber musician, Ivan Bašić has also teaches piano in the Zurich area. For full biography and career details see the pianist’s website.


Setting, etc.

I noticed that some members of the audience were enthusiastic about Ivan Bašić as a teacher in local music schools. Moreover, this was almost certainly the last one of the “Musik an ETHZ und UZH” matinee events at this venue. At least for a while (watch out for the upcoming report from the recital on 2024-05-17). So it was no surprise that the venue, with a limited capacity of about 100 people, was filled almost to the last seat.

As usual, I took a seat at the back of the hall. Since I’m not a pianist myself, there’s little benefit in watching the performer’s hands and fingers up close. Also, the acoustics are probably even better (or at least more balanced) in the back of the hall. It is also easier to take photos without disturbing other audience members.

The instrument was the small size Yamaha grand that the institution (Zurich University) placed in this venue.

Concert & Review

Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach: Toccata No.5 in E minor, BWV 914

Composer & Work

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) wrote seven Toccatas (BWV 910 – 916). The exact circumstances of these works are unclear. However, they were likely composed between 1703 and 1713, either in Arnstadt or during Bach’s early years in Weimar. A prominent feature of these Toccatas is the recurring presence of Stylus fantasticus—a stylistic element that Bach must have picked up from his encounter with organ works by Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637 – 1707) during his stay in Lübeck (1705 – 1706). Bach’s score does not feature an instrument designation. Harpsichord or organ, or in fact any keyboard instrument (in Bach’s time) seems appropriate (none of the Toccatas features a pedal part), and today, many pianists have adopted these works for their repertoire. Ivan Bašić selected the Toccata No.5 in E minor, BWV 914, bearing the following annotations:

  1. (Toccata) — Un poco allegro
  2. Adagio
  3. Fuga a 3 voci: Allegro

The Performance

I. (Toccata) — Un poco allegro

First impressions from the introduction (Toccata): measured, cautious, gentle, free in tempo, with a gradual acceleration in the first bars toward the climax. There was a distinct rallentando in the second part, ending in a fermata. Not surprisingly on a modern instrument, Ivan Bašić’s interpretation felt legato / romantic, emphasizing the melodic aspects, rather than agogics and tension within motifs and tones. This—not the qualities of the sound—is responsible for most of the difference between the characteristics of a piano interpretation and one on the harpsichord. A true “Baroque feel” is difficult, if not impossible to achieve on modern instruments. The latter of course is this artist’s instrument, and we cannot deny pianists the opportunity to play Bach’s Toccatas!

The polyphonic Un poco allegro was equally gentle, soft, rather slow, lacking the (un poco) Allegro character? Moreover, the performance lost some momentum and tension in the first bars, and the pp subito in bar 31 seemed somewhat unmotivated, the final ritardando unnecessary.

II. Adagio

Ivan Bašić’s interpretation reflected the irregular rhythmic structure of Bach’s notation—embedded in romantic dynamics and rubato, and very carefully articulated. What I missed here is the freely fabulating, erratic, often bizarre component of the Stylus fantasticus. Taming these components doesn’t help the piece!

III. Fuga a 3 voci: Allegro

The fugue is the movement where the interpretation differed the most from a typical baroque performance, be it on harpsichord or organ. With Ivan Bašić, the fugue was playful, fluid / fluent, virtuosic and even (too) fast (to the point where occasional superficialities crept in). Harpsichordists play this much slower, with emphasis on local Klangrede / articulation / agogics, “motivic tension” and shorter phrases. Ivan Bašić used very limited agogics and focused on broad phrasing arches covering Bach’s unwieldy, long fugue themes (so typical of Bach’s early fugues!). A modern interpretation that unfortunately suppressed aspects of Bach’s original…

Rating: ★★★½

Franz Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn

Haydn: Piano Sonata No.49 in C♯ minor, Hob.XVI/36

Composer & Work

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) wrote well over 60 keyboard sonatas. Most of these are now called piano sonatas, even though Haydn labeled many of the early ones Divertimenti, and the majority of these “sonatas” were actually written for the harpsichord—the fortepiano was only just being invented during Haydn’s lifetime. The Piano Sonata No.49 in C♯ minor, Hob.XVI/36 was written in 1780. It may well be among the first ones that Haydn composed with the fortepiano in mind. The sonata is in three movements:

  1. Moderato
  2. Scherzando: Allegro con brio
  3. Menuetto: Moderato

The Performance

I. Moderato

Despite the pronounced marcato notes in the main theme, the overall impression of this movement was one of a gentle, thoughtful and reflective interpretation, expressive and lyrical, occasionally in danger of losing tension. It felt almost / more like a composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791). In a way, I missed Haydn’s often provocative humor, his wit. The modern instrument may have contributed to this impression.

II. Scherzando: Allegro con brio

Playful, light—and a tempo that was certainly appropriate for Haydn’s intended instrument (harpsichord or fortepiano). Here, the heavier action of the small Yamaha grand made some of the fast figures sound a tad superficial. Do modern instruments require more aggressive playing in this movement? Or would that defeat the humorous aspects of this music?

III. Menuetto: Moderato

Menuetto” and “Moderato” may seem contradictory in this C♯ minor movement. Ivan Bašić focused on the Moderato aspect, turning this into a thoughtful, earnest / melancholic, serious, almost tragic piece. The lovely Trio in C♯ major, full of warmth and intimacy, formed a beautiful contrast to the Menuetto: beautiful!

Rating: ★★★★

Maurice Ravel, by Véronique Fournier-Pouyet
Maurice Ravel

Ravel: Menuet sur le nom de Haydn, M.58

Composer & Work

In 1909, to commemorate the centenary of Franz Joseph Haydn’s death, Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) composed his Menuet sur le nom de Haydn, M.58. It’s a piece of only 54 bars. Its 5-note theme is derived from HAYDN, where H is B natural, Y is D natural, N is G natural (just going through the alphabet, with the scale starting at A[..G], H [= A], O [= A], and V [= A]), resulting in b’-a’-d”-d”-g”. The piece is the result of a series of commissions from the Revue musicale mensuelle de la Société Internationale de Musique (Monthly Musical Review of the International Society of Music). Similar commissions went to

Together, these six commissioned works formed the Hommage à Joseph Haydn, published by the Société Internationale de Musique in 1910.

The Performance

Haydn’s presence in this movement is, of course, very abstract, only through the construction of the 5-tone theme. It would be wrong to allude to Haydn’s music in this piece. And Ivan Bašić obviously didn’t.

With each movement so far, the artist seemed to get closer to the places in music where he feels “at home”. Here, everything seemed to be “right”: the calm, reflective pace, maintaining flow and tension through constant, gentle swaying, all embedded in a single, large arch. A still life in impressionistic harmonies, pure atmosphere.

Rating: ★★★★½

Ravel: Jeux d’eau, M.30

The Work

In 1901, at the age of 26, Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937), then still a student of Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924), wrote Jeux d’eau, M.30. Ravel dedicated it to his teacher. He gave the first performance of Jeux d’eaux that same year to a small group of artists. These found that the piece “opened up new horizons in piano technique”. The general reception, however, was initially highly controversial. People such as Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921), as well as most of the faculty of the Conservatoire found it “totally cacophonous” and overly complicated. When Jeux d’eaux was first performed in 1902, it was considered inferior to Pavane pour une infante défunte, M.19. The latter is now considered a minor work, while Jeux d’eaux is recognized by many as “an important milestone in piano literature” (see Wikipedia for details).

The Performance

A beautiful, fascinating piece, indeed! Ethereal, light and luminous in the high passages, sounds almost reminiscent of an aeolian or glass harp. Without trying to show off, Ivan Bašić demonstrated effortless playing, despite the high demands on agility and a delicate, refined and controlled touch in the fast passages. Around the climax, Ravel asks for fff. Here, the artist kept the volume under control (ff at most) in order not to exceed the capacity of the small instrument. And after the climax, Ivan Bašić returned to a masterly, refined jeu perlé in the glittering waves: an excellent performance!

Rating: ★★★★★

Franz Liszt, 1858
Franz Liszt

Liszt: Années de Pèlerinage, 3me Année: No.4, Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este, S.163/4

Composer & Work

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) composed three extended suites under the name Années de pèlerinage:

The third volume, Années de pèlerinage, Troisième année, features seven pieces, with “Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este” in the center:

  1. Angélus! Prière aux anges gardiens (Angelus! Prayer to the Guardian Angels)
  2. Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este I: Thrénodie (To the Cypresses of the Villa d’Este I: Threnody)
  3. Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este II: Thrénodie (To the Cypresses of the Villa d’Este II: Threnody)
  4. Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este (The Fountains of the Villa d’Este)
  5. Sunt lacrymae rerum / En mode hongrois (There are Tears for Things / In Hungarian Style, 1872)
  6. Marche funèbre, En mémoire de Maximilien I, Empereur du Mexique (Funeral March, In memory of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, 1867)
  7. Sursum corda (Lift Up Your Hearts)

The No.4, Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este, S.163/4, is in F♯ major. It is the most popular movement in this suite. The Wikipedia article calls it a precursor of Impressionism in music. It was also a model (or at least an inspiration) for Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, M.30, see above. The main tempo markings are

  • Allegretto — Un poco più moderato — Un poco accelerando — Un poco più lento.

The Performance

With Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este, Ivan Bašić achieved a seamless transition from the Impressionism of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau to Liszt’s high Romantic predecessor. Fluid, light, slightly urging towards the trill in bar 22, very serene, expressive and descriptive, playful and gentle. Around the Un poco più moderato, one almost had the impression that Liszt had embedded baroque reminiscences in the melody line, in the harmonies. Dreamy, lucid, descriptive music with beautiful aeolian harp moments. It lead to a transfigured climax high up on the keyboard—pure joy and pleasure. After this, the atmosphere darkens slightly, becomes more dramatic, and builds from pp to a climax (Un poco accelerando, up to the ff octaves ending in bar 219). The following ff brioso depicted rising, sparkling water droplets and splashes.

Toward the climax, the instrument’s bass sonority seemed exhausted. However, one cannot blame the artist for these momentary limitations. In any case, they quickly disappeared in the Un poco più lento: a coda in which the music transcended into a glorious apotheosis. Spirituality or illustration? Both, I think!

Rating: ★★★★½

Liszt: Bagatelle sans tonalité, S.216a

The Work

Towards the end of his life, Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) turned to the German legend of Faust. In doing so, he didn’t only rely upon the famous play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832), but also on the play “Faust” by Nikolaus Lenau (1802 – 1850). The Bagatelle sans tonalité (Bagatelle without tonality), S.216a, is a work from 1885. In the manuscript, the Bagatelle was labeled “Mephisto Waltz No.4“. Formally, it is indeed a Waltz. The Wikipedia comment calls it “not particularly dissonant, but extremely chromatic, lacking a definite sense of a tonal center”. The piece was first performed in 1885. However, it was not published until 1955.

The Performance

The Mephisto Waltz No.4 brought a sudden change of atmosphere. A transition from the serenity of the Jeux d’eaux to a ghastly, bleak darkness, searching, wandering, to flickering, fleeting apparitions like a will-o’-the-wisp. By all means, Ivan Bašić seemed to master the unpredictable, volatile nature of this piece with ease, as if it were a finger exercise. Fascinating!

Rating: ★★★★

Franz Liszt, 1858
Franz Liszt
Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner

Liszt: Transcription of Wagner’s Overture to Tannhäuser, S.442

The Work

Much of Franz Liszt’s prodigious output for the piano consists of transcriptions of works by other composers. One purpose of these transcriptions was to make prominent works available to audiences who might not otherwise have access to this music. This is especially true of transcriptions of overtures and other excerpts from operas. A prominent (though rarely performed) example of this category is the Transcription of Wagner’s Overture to “Tannhäuser“, S.442. The transcription dates from 1848—just three years after Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883) completed his opera “Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg“, WWV 70 (1845).

Liszt transcribed not only the overture, but also the aria “O du mein holder Abendstern” (for piano, as well as for cello and piano), the “Einmarsch der Gäste” (piano), and the “Pilgerchor“, a paraphrase for piano. The transcription of the Overture is actually called a “concert paraphrase”. For Liszt, this meant more freedom, i.e., not a strict 1:1 transcription, but rather a free fantasy on the original. In this case, there is an additional attribute “concert”. This indicates that it is also a bravura piece, i.e., a highly virtuosic work in which the composer could display his brilliance, his outstanding technical skills and his mastery.

The tempo annotations in Liszt’s concert paraphrase are

  • Andante maestoso (♩= 50) —
  • Allegro (1/2 = 80) —
  • (Molto vivace)

The Performance

Andante maestoso

The opening bars felt very controlled—more like a slow andante than a maestoso. True, there is also a sostenuto indication. Still, the beginning felt slow, static, lacking tension / suspense, slow to get into motion. Only with the introduction of the triplet figures in the left hand, through the crescendo to the ff, did the interpretation gain momentum. And at the ff, I felt “in” the music, and the interpretation began to evoke images. The ff is also marked marcatissimo la melodia, sempre maestoso e senza agitatione: Liszt obviously wanted to keep reserves, because there is still a long way to go!

Of course, one should keep in mind that already here (on page 2 of 30) Liszt’s “orchestral” score is full of considerable technical challenges. In addition to the many wide, full-fingered chords and left-hand jumps, the performer must maintain flow and tension without accelerating, i.e., always holding back—but not too much! The Diminuendo — più piano (sempre marcato il canto) did indeed lose some of its tension. The last bars of the Andante (più piano — sempre più piano) were an attempt to build anticipation.


Here, Ivan Bašić was “at home”! He was able to play out his light, agile touch in the fast figures / runs, the broken chords in the high descant. And over the sempre crescendo ed appassionato — sempre più rinforzando — precipitato, the interpretation was in full swing. Actually, after the precipitato, over the grandioso to the ff, the tempo was a bit too fast, which took away some of the suspense: we were still far from the real climax!

Certainly, Ivan Bašić didn’t seem to face any serious technical challenges during all the fast figures, the blazing chromatic scales across the keyboard or in the left-hand accompaniment. The interpretation was technically / pianistically brilliant, fascinating, often dramatic (e.g., in the appassionato espressivo, with the menacing, rolling scales in the bass). There were occasional, minor mishaps (are there any pianists who play this music flawlessly?), but these were irrelevant. The endless build-up was thrilling, technically astounding, even breathtaking, a demonstration of technical excellence: congratulations!

Let me just add a few words of personal opinion about the interpretation. As a listener, I’m more than willing to sacrifice some technical brilliance / perfection in favor of more drama / theater. I see this piece as more than a demonstration of virtuosity and pianistic excellence. Ideally, I think the listener should not only be fascinated by the technical performance (the “pure music”, so to speak). Rather, the interpretation should place the listener in the midst of a live opera performance (Wagner’s overture is a preview of the entire opera), with all the emotions that this entails. That’s where I think there is still “room for more” in Ivan Bašić’s interpretation.

Rating: ★★★

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the only previous live performance of Liszt’s Tannhäuser Overture paraphrase that I attended was by another student of Konstantin Scherbakov. See my review of the 2011-09-26 concert in the small hall of the Tonhalle in Zurich.

Encore by Stevan Mokranjac

Choosing an encore after Liszt’s momentous concert paraphrase certainly wasn’t easy. That piece was so overwhelming that the obvious option would have been to give no encore at all and let the audience leave with that impression. However, since the audience was so numerous and rewarding, Ivan Bašić still decided to add an extra. Since the Orthodox Easter was less than a week ago (2024-05-05), the artist chose a piece from the Orthodox Easter liturgy. It was a composition by the revered 19th century Serbian composer Stevan Mokranjac (1856 – 1914), often called the “father of Serbian music”.

The encore, a solemn 4-part hymn, proved to be an excellent choice. It is quiet, reflective, reminiscent of the melancholy, the yearning and spiritual tone in the last works of Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856). Apart from the fact that the instrument’s tuning had noticeably (and understandably) deteriorated during the Liszt works, this was a beautiful, most fitting ending!


The author would like to thank the organizer, Nina Orotchko / Musical Discovery, for free admission to this concert—and Ivan Bašić for his fascinating recital!

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