Kogima, Fajdiga, Conus, Kliuchko
Bach / Liszt / Martin / Ravel
Aula der Universität, Zurich, 2019-04-30
2019-05-03 — Original posting
Benefiz-Klavierabend zugunsten der Orphanhealthcare Stiftung für Seltene Krankheiten — Kurze Zusammenfassung
Drei Absolventen und eine Absolventin der Internationalen Engadiner Sommer-Klavierakademie 2017 in einem Benefizkonzert:
Der Brasilianer Richard Octaviano Kogima präsentierte Bachs Englische Suite Nr.3 in einer eher romantisierenden, auf den modernen Flügel zugeschnittenen Interpretation. Meta Fajdiga aus Slowenien spielte Liszt, beginnend mit einer stimmungsvollen, sorgfältig artikulierten Consolation No.3, danach die technisch anforderungsreiche und kräftezehrende “Dante-Sonate”, die nicht in allen Teilen gleichermaßen zu überzeugen vermochte. Der Schweizer Jérémie Conus zeigte sich souverän in den selten gespielten, aber nicht minder anspruchsvollen acht Préludes von Frank Martin. Den Abschluss machte der jüngste der Pianisten, der Russe Aleksandr Kliuchko mit Ravels Gaspard de la nuit, technisch hervorragend vor allem in Ondine, noch mehr aber in Scarbo, einem der schwierigsten Werke der gesamten Klavierliteratur.
The concert series Musik an ETHZ und UZH, organized by Musical Discovery, features concerts at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, as well as at the University of Zurich. This particular concert was the second one at the Aula, main convention hall of the University. See my earlier report from 2019-03-27 for the first concert in that location. This piano recital featured four pianists: Richard Octaviano Kogima (Brazil), Meta Fajdiga (Slovenia), Jérémie Conus (Switzerland), and Aleksandr Kliuchko (Russia). All these artists are students of the Engadin International Piano Summer Academy 2017. This is an annual academy course that is also part of Musical Discovery’s activities. The 2017 Summer Academy was held in Samedan. The next, upcoming instance will be the X. International Summer Piano Academy Disentis, Switzerland, on 2019-07-21 – 2019-08-04.
A Charity Concert for the Foundation Orphanhealthcare
This particular concert was special. It was a charity event that Musical Discovery organized in cooperation with Orphanhealthcare, a charitable Swiss foundation for rare diseases. The pianists all performed without pay, the Foundation Orphanhealthcare received 90% of the revenue of the event. Frank Grossmann of the Foundation gave a brief introduction into the foundation’s activities and introduced the program:
- Richard Octaviano Kogima
- Meta Fajdiga
- Jérémie Conus
- Aleksandr Kliuchko
There were around 150 people in the audience (the venue offers close to 300 seats). The piano was a Steinway B-211 (mid-size grand). I sat on the right-hand side, around row 8 – 10. This allowed me to see the artist’s face, and I did not disrupt too many people with my photo camera. The lighting is non-ideal for photography (just the array lamps spread over the entire ceiling, no spotlight on the artist). I apologize for the limited quality of the photos. I merely meant to illustrate my listener’s view. All photos below are by the author (© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved).
Richard Octaviano Kogima (*1990, São Paulo/Brazil)
The first artist was the Brazilian pianist, composer and conductor Richard Octaviano Kogima (*1990, São Paulo/Brazil). Kogima is currently studying with Konstantin Scherbakov (*1963) at the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts), towards his Master of Music degree. And, of course, he has participated in the Engadin International Piano Summer Academy 2017. I have previously experienced a performance with Richard Kogima. This was in a concert in Zurich on 2018-11-02, jointly with the Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires(*1944).
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) composed around 19 suites for keyboard instrument (harpsichord). Musicologists think that the six English Suites (BWV 812 – 817) are the earliest of these compositions, probably from 1718 – 1720. The English Suite No.3 in G minor, BWV 808, comes with six movements. A Prélude is followed by the four standard dance movements in the baroque suite: Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue. In addition, there is a pair of Gavottes after the Sarabande:
- Gavotte I / II
As expected, Richard Kogima offered a Bach performance far from the harpsichord, very much adapted to the possibilities of the modern concert grand. Fairly robust in the initial motifs, then rather fluent and flowing. Outspoken and detailed in the dynamics. Richard Kogima’s differentiation is of course impossible to realize on Bach’s instruments. There, the main means of expression rather is in the articulation.
As piano performance, it sure was highly respectable. OK, Kogima was maybe a bit too elaborate in the dynamics. Also, especially in comparison to performances on period instruments, some of the ornaments (demisemiquaver motifs, trills, mordents, etc.) in my view felt somewhat superficial, too fluent. They do stand out on the harpsichord: an effect that Bach must have intended. The final arpeggio chord (following a fairly explicit ritardando) was Richard Kogima’s addition.
Calm in the pace, retained in the dynamics. Gentle, with some extra ornaments (inverted mordents) already in the first pass of the first half. Maybe a bit too predictably, Kogima’s ornaments focused on the third note on the second or fourth group of four semiquaver quadruplets. In the second pass, there were numerous additional ornaments, passing notes, and the like. Kogima applied these with more fantasy than in the first pass. In baroque music, adding extra ornaments is very much in the artist’s discretion. My personal preference would be to leave the original as is in the first pass, applying ornaments in a second pass only (or mainly). In the realm of a piano performance, I definitely liked Richard Kogima’s style and frequency in ornamentation for this movement.
This followed attacca. With a grain of salt, my remarks on the Prélude also apply here. Richard Kogima performed both repeats. That’s not just desirable, but almost a must with such a short movement. I did (could) not follow Kogima’s use of the sustain pedal. My impression was that this pedal was used, not just judging from the legato articulation, but from the overall, full sonority. One may argue about the relative sonorities of piano vs. harpsichord. However, the sustain pedal is definitely something outside of the composer’s imagination, hence should (?) be avoided.
With the constant arpeggiando, the mellow, gentle and soft articulation, Richard Kogima presented a rather (exceedingly) romantic view of this movement. Bach offered two versions of the same movement: the regular form, plus Les agréments de la même Sarabande (the movement with rich ornamentation). Kogima did the initial 8 bars first in the standard form, then in the ornamented version. There was no repeat with the second half. And here, we only heard the ornamented version. Merely a consequence of the time restriction in the recital?
V. Gavotte I / II
Gavotte I: As a dance movement, this sounded rather mellow, very (too?) gentle. Shouldn’t that be more joyful, and rhythmically more accentuated? Also, compared to a “period performance”, I regretted the shift in relative weights. On a harpsichord, fast ornaments and long trills make a note stand out. That’s an effect which Bach sure intended! Richard Kogima made them appear almost inconspicuous and entirely integrated into the soft, gentle flow.
Gavotte II: Richard Kogima took this distinctly slower than the first Gavotte, with beautiful shaping of phrases and periods, gentle dynamics. A very nice performance, indeed. The only drawback of the slow tempo was that the musette character (Bach annotates “Gavottte II ou la Musette“) was hardly recognizable.
I: ★★★ / II: ★★★★
Richard Kogima presented very pianistic (as opposed to “harpsichordistic”) view of this movement—and an excellent one as such.
Overall Rating: ★★★
My rating reflects both the technical performance, as well as (somewhat predominantly in this case) my personal concert experience and the interpretation. The latter involves the relation between the composer’s notation and the actual performance. I see that aspect rather critical: it often feels “rather far from Bach”. However, I should say that from a purely technical point-of-view (articulation, touch, dynamic control, phrasing, etc.), Richard Octaviano Kogima’s performance was superb.
The Artist: Meta Fajdiga (*1991, Slovenia)
The second participant of the Engadin International Piano Summer Academy 2017 in this concert was Meta Fajdiga (*1991), from Slovenia. And she, too, was a student of Konstantin Scherbakov (*1963) at the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts), where she graduated with the CAS Performance Classics, with the Master of Arts in Specialized Music Performance (soloist diploma), and the Master of Arts degree in Music Performance. Also here, this was my second concert encounter with the artist. I heard her in an earlier concert in Arosa on 2016-02-25.
Meta Fajdiga presented two compositions by Franz Liszt, preceding the main composition, the “Dante Sonata”, with one of Liszt’s Consolations:
Liszt: Consolation No.3 in D♭ major, S.172/3
Between 1844 and 1849, Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) composed a first set of six “Consolations“. These are now listed as S.171a, published only in 1992 (!). Right after these years, 1849 – 1850, Liszt created a second set ofConsolations, Six Pensées poétiques, S.172. This is the set people are usually referring to. Consolation No.3 in D♭ major, S.172/3 has the annotation Lento placido. It is the most well-known of these pieces. In its atmosphere and texture, it is close to Nocturne in D♭ major, op.27/2 by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849). It even uses the same tonality.
Consolation No.3 is not only popular in recital programs, one also frequently hears it as encore in piano recitals. I have witnessed both options in piano recitals over the past years.
Very atmospheric, with beautiful dynamic arches. Careful in articulation and phrasing, and with “natural” rhythmic independence between the right hand (mostly 4/4 or 2/2) and the left-hand accompaniment in 12/8. And an excellent transition from Bach into Liszt’s romantic style!
1849, around the time when he composed his Consolations, Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) completed his one-movement piano sonata Après une lecture du Dante, Fantasia quasi Sonata, S.161/7, also known as “Dante Sonata“. The origins of this piece are in a short, two-movement composition “Fragments after Dante” from 1830. Liszt published the “Dante Sonata” only in 1856. It is the last piece (No.7) in his “Années de Pèlerinage”, 2me Année – Italie.
As mentioned, the Dante Sonata is in one movement, though with numerous tempo annotations. The first segment, starting Andante maestoso, is in D minor and apparently depicts the misery of the souls in Hell. The second segment in F♯ major (starting Andante) depicts the joy of the souls in Heaven. The piece is highly virtuosic and strenuous:
- Andante maestoso — Più moto — Presto agitato assai — Tempo I (Andante) — Andante quasi improvisato — (lunga pausa)
- Andante — Recitativo — Adagio — Allegro moderato —
- Più mosso — Tempo rubato e molto ritenuto — Andante — Più mosso — Allegro — Allegro vivace — Presto — Andante
This was the second time that I heard Liszt’s “Dante Sonata” in concert. The first instance was five years ago, in a concert in Baden, on 2014-03-08, featuring another one of Konstantin Scherbakov’s students, Yulianna Avdeeva.
The fanfare-like beginning didn’t try “making a bold statement”, as with other pianists. It sounded rather restrained. Yes, the annotation is just f. But was this maestoso? Was that in parts due to the mid-size Steinway grand? It must have been deliberate, as Meta Fajdiga built up volume, indeed reached a clear ff in the Più moto. The instrument showed some tuning weaknesses in the bass register, already in the first bars. The soundscape from the instrument often felt somewhat mellow, occasionally slightly matte. However, when the Presto agitato assai sounded blurred, this clearly was Liszt’s intent. The pianist was truthfully following the pedaling instructions in the score.
In the first part, I had the impression of dynamic waves, flowing without ruptures. At the climax, the fff chords certainly were powerful enough, though the precipitato cascades seemed less impressive. I again asked myself whether this was due to limitations in the instrument. Or did these cascades just require more physical power? At the end, Liszt explicitly asks for a lunga pausa. I find this extremely difficult to realize without loss of tension. Was it a tiny bit too long in this interpretation? Or was this rather a matter of how the pianist shaped the molto rit. prior to the double fermata? Or was this just my impatience?
Second Theme (F♯ major)
The second “theme / part” started anew, like after a “reset”. It showed careful articulation, pedaling, dynamics. However, in my impression, it seemed to lack some coherence. It wasn’t entirely compelling, as if the composer hadn’t known where to go with this music. The ppp dolcissimo con amore surely was very gentle, subtle. Of course, it inevitably built up to the next ff (appassionato assai), preparing for the return of the first theme (Allegro moderato). Here again I had the impression that the instrument lacked brilliance. In the tremolando segment within the Allegro moderato, I missed the menacing atmosphere. Or, should this rather be mystic? Maybe the left hand staccato wasn’t poignant enough?
Final Section (Più mosso, etc.)
The subsequent fff climax (in the first Più mosso segment) could have been more overpowering. Was this a limitation of the instrument? However, Meta Fajdiga captured the harmonious, lyrical atmosphere in the subsequent tremolando section (senza rallentare) really well. The Tempo rubato e molto ritenuto segment with its ppp closure that ends this intermezzo seemed challenging to present compellingly. I had the impression that the difficulties in this music are not only in the virtuosic, powerful parts, but just as much in the restrained, lyrical segments. For example, shouldn’t the short Andante be more serene, gentle? The next crescendo, the next climax follows soon enough!
The long and highly virtuosic coda again requires mobilizing all physical (and mental) forces. Here, I felt that the pianist was showing signs of exhaustion. She was maybe lacking the extra reserves required to overcome the restrictions of the smaller concert grand?
★★★½ / ★★★
Overall Rating: ★★★
The Artist: Jérémie Conus (*1994, Switzerland)
The third one of the participants at the Engadin International Piano Summer Academy 2017 was the Swiss pianist Jérémie Conus (*1994). Just like the two pianists above, he, too, is a student of Konstantin Scherbakov at the ZHdK (Zurich University of the Arts). There, he did his Bachelor of Arts in Music (2016) and his Master of Arts in Music Pedagogy (teaching diploma), both with distinction. He currently is continuing his studies towards the Master of Arts in Music Performance. Jérémie Conus also receives support by the Foundation Migros Kulturprozent Classics.
Martin: Eight Préludes (1947/1948)
The Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890 – 1974) grew up in Geneva. Although deeply affected by music, he followed his parents’ wish and studied math and physics at the University of Geneva for two years. At the same time, he also studied piano, composition and harmony. He is primarily known for his orchestral works, concertos, choral, vocal, and chamber music. His very few (and little known) works for piano solo prove that Frank Martin was also a highly achieved pianist. The Eight Préludes from 1947/1948 have the following annotations:
- Grave — Plus animé — Grave — Andante — Grave
- Allegretto tranquillo
- Tranquillo con moto
- Vivace — Molto vivace — Tempo I
- Andantino grazioso
- Lento — Più espressivo — Con moto — Andante — Tempo I
After the intermission, Jérémie Conus entered the hall a little early, before everyone was seated. His presence was barely noted by some in the audience. However, as soon as the 25-year old (looking younger than this) started playing, that instantly compensated his modest, inconspicuous appearance!
I. Grave — Plus animé — Grave — Andante — Grave
Excellent legato, clear articulation, clear dynamic layering, impressively showing how Frank Martin plays with resonances that migrate into sustained notes and chords. An excellent performance. This also started to change my impression about the instrument’s sonority. It’s amazing to realize to what degree a pianist’s playing can change how an instrument sounds!
II. Allegretto tranquillo
Excellent, clear dynamic control in the layering between the two hands, but also in the overall dynamic arch. Poignant, clear articulation.
III. Tranquillo con moto
Very good, clear articulation in the right hand. Maybe the left hand accompaniment could (should?) have been a little more consequent / regular / persistent and independent? But not rigid, of course!
Impressive dynamics, again with amazingly clear differentiation between the two hands.
V. Vivace — Molto vivace — Tempo I
Once more: excellent, differentiated articulation and dynamics, highlighting the scarce melodic fragments among the constant triplet movement, clarity, virtuosity, impressive dynamic arch!
VI. Andantino grazioso
Lovely, lyrical music, despite the disparate harmonics that seem close to dodecaphony, initially fragmented, then more and more intense (and denser) and beautiful cantilenas, ending almost in baroque polyphony. Beautiful, a marvel, both as composition and as interpretation!
VII. Lento — Più espressivo — Con moto — Andante — Tempo I
Another compositorial gem! Jérémie Conus was excellent at maintaining the tension throughout this pensive, reflecting movement with its pauses, when the music seems to listen into the fading resonances. The pianist carefully shaping the dynamics in parallel with the course of the tempo. At the same time, the structure of the movement (the longest and most complex in the set) remains clear, through the long dynamic arches. Very intense, atmospheric music that occasionally seems to evoke the deserted scenery from Ravel’s Le Gibet that we heard in the last segment of the concert!
Impressive playing also here: virtuosic, clear, powerful, excellent sonority. Music with a strong motoric component, building up to sparkling fireworks.
Overall Rating: ★★★★
Why aren’t Martin’s 8 Préludes played more often?
The Artist: Aleksandr Kliuchko (*2000, Saransk, Russia)
The fourth and youngest of the participants at the Engadin International Piano Summer Academy 2017 in this concert was the Russian Aleksandr Kliuchko. Born 2000 in Saransk, he studied at the Frederic Chopin University of Music in Moscow (Sergei Artsibashev). Since 2018, he is a student at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, with Rena Shereshevskaya. At his young age, he has already won several prizes at competitions in Ekaterinburg, Moscow, Astana (Kazakhstan), Paris, and in Spain (Santander, Barcelona). He also made appearances on notable concert stages in Moscow and Paris and participated in festivals in Irkutsk (“Stars on Baikal”) and Aarhus, Denmark (Gradus Piano Festival).
Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit, M.55
Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) composed Gaspard de la nuit, M.55 in 1908. It’s a set of three movements, based on poems from the collection Gaspard de la Nuit — Fantaisies à la manière de Rembrandt et de Callot, completed in 1836 by Aloysius Bertrand (1807 – 1841).
- Ondine (C♯ major)
- Le Gibet (E♭ minor)
- Scarbo (G♯ minor)
Ondine (the first poem) relates to the water nymph Undine in a tale with that name. The poem Le Gibet (the gibbet) depicts a gibbet in a desert, with the corpse of a hanged man. Throughout the piece, a bell tools from a distant city. Finally, Scarbo depicts “the nighttime mischief of a small fiend or goblin, making pirouettes, flitting in and out of the darkness, disappearing and suddenly reappearing” (taken from Wikipedia). Scarbo allegedly is one of the most difficult pieces in the piano repertoire of all times. Ravel apparently intended it to be more difficult than Islamey, Oriental Fantasy by Mily Balakirev (1837 – 1910).
The youngest of the pianists, aged just 19, ended the concert. I’m not sure whether the order of the recital was coincidental, set up for a logical sequence / development of the music, or merely following the principle of seniority (oldest first, the most junior—by age—last). In any case, the recital ended with a true highlight:
Virtuosic, whirring tremolando above a calm, singing melody, calm also in the build-up to rolling waves. The performance was compelling also in the quiet, unexcited flow, technically and musically masterful, highly virtuosic in the intricate right-hand chord cascades in the center of the piece, and indeed rapide et brillant in the final bars. Ravel’s sound magic in an excellent realization!
II. Le Gibet
Based on the above, Aleksandr Kliuchko expectedly presented a technically flawless performance. The soft, slightly arpeggiated chords in the left hand made the beginning sound rather mellow. Does this comply with the un peu marqué annotation? The text associated with the score notes that this requires a very large hand span, and it explicitly states that rather than resorting to arpeggiating, one should rather “omit certain notes”…
Or was it the weight of the melody voices relative to the constant, permanent tolling of the bell that made me miss the picture of a deserted, eerie scenery? Should it have been (even) softer? Yes, the sonority of the instrument was harmonious, round, warm, almost full in the bass at times. However, I don’t think that is the point in this piece?
After the second fermata, Ravel begins at the lowest end (A0) of the keyboard. And here, one could hear the limitation of a mid-site grand piano. The pitch of these notes was hardly readable. However, this was merely an instrumental restriction that one could safely ignore. Not only was Aleksandr Kliuchko able to evoke a highly impressive scope in sonority, but he seemed to face no technical issues in mastering the horrendous difficulties in this score! Almost effortless in the rapidly repeated notes, the blazing cascades, excellent in the dynamic control, astounding in volume and sonority, breathtaking in his virtuosity.
With the exception of the “bass deficiency” the pianist made one (almost) completely forget that this was “just” a Steinway B-211. This performance made me think that it is the artist that makes the sound, not the instrument.
Overall Rating: ★★★★
I was highly impressed with the outer movements: congratulations!