Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dmitry Mayboroda Review

Dmitry Mayboroda, Piano
Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia
September 7, 2011

All-Rachmaninoff Program:

•Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op. 3 No. 2
(Preludes Op. 23)
•No. 5 in G Minor
•No. 4 in D Major
•No. 2 in B-flat Major
•No. 6 in E-flat Major

Preludes Op. 32
•No. 10 in B Minor
•No. 12 in G-sharp Minor
•No. 13 in D-flat Major

Moments musicaux Op. 16
•No. 4 in E Minor
•No. 5 in D-flat Major
•No. 6 in C Major


•Liebesfreud (Love’s Joy)
•Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow)

•Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

•Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 36

•Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G, 32/5
•Rachmaninoff: Polka de Vassily Rachmaninoff

Probably the best overall description I can give about my thoughts on this concert as a whole can be summed up with an anecdote about the middle part of the G minor prelude. 
If you look at the score, you see a pleasant melody in octaves in the right hand, and a gently inflected rolling bass line in the left, looping up and down like hills. Most pianists take this middle part simply as the "middle section" of the piece, and content themselves with a perfunctory rendering of the overall shape: melody, and rolling accompaniment, steamrolling those inflections into nonentity in the process. 

Well, you're interested in going one better than that, you can balance the parts well so that you can hear the soft, rolling accompaniment, the octave melody come in over it, and finally those inflection points poking through in the middle. That's a good way of letting the music speak for itself. 

However, it is possible to go through that very process, but figure out HOW the melody and the rolling bass relate to those inflections, and then tailor their parts so that when the inflections do come in, they sound like an outgrowth of everything that came before. In a rich piece of music, there are typically a few ways in which that might be done, and when one chooses to do so, it gives the impression of the artist making a STATEMENT.

This happened all night long.

The person sitting next to me during the concert asked me what I thought of his technique. I thought for a bit, and said that I believed his technique to be par. While he obviously can play and shape the notes in all of these pieces–either by choice, or by limitation, I can't presume to know which–there remain others who can outdo him technically. One can't hear Gavrilov play the octaves and chords at the end of the B flat prelude and not be somewhat expectant when a new pianist comes up and plays that piece; Mayboroda was very good, but I've heard dynamite elsewhere. Clearly, Mayboroda could handle the octaves in the G minor prelude, but they didn't come etched out like bullets like Matsuev does. My one complaint of the evening is that the Mendelssohn didn't sound as "spritely" as it should. Granted, even a pianist of great stature like Garrick Ohlsson was quoted in an interview as stating that particular piece has "so many notes in it!", so we can forgive Mr. Mayboroda for somewhat succumbing to the extreme density of texture a little bit.

The good news through all of this is that I don't think it matters in the least. 

That Wednesday evening, Mr. Mayboroda made it abundantly clear that he was focused on bringing out the small details and the inner voices in Rachmaninoff's music. Sure, his scales were clean, and his details were well-defined, but I could tell that that wasn't his focus. It was as if he said, "Now, the technique for XYZ passage is very good, and that is sufficient. Now I can focus on these things." And went on to concentrate on the arc of the performance through the two halves of the program, and sculpting his sound to be what he wanted. As the concert went on, overall his tone subtly but ceaselessly shifted from a more melody focused sound (one that one would stereotypically expect to hear in Chopin playing) to a richer, darker, more full blooded one. A classic example was the Moment Musical in C (a piece I think can stand to be forgotten): he brought out details in the writing of that piece I've never heard anyone do before. Most pianists just kind of let the volume and the texture (I've read that this piece has more notes per second than anything else Rachmaninoff ever wrote) speak for itself, but in Mayboroda's hands, we hear shapely, charming, chromatic melodic lines. Granted, they were repetitive and supernumerary charming, shapely melodic lines, but they were there. Mayboroda took the trouble to take Rachmaninoff's music and make something out of it. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eldar Nebolsin Review

Eldar Nebolsin, piano
Bennett-Gordon Hall
Sunday, September 4, 2011. 6:00pm.


•Sonata in A, D. 664

•Sonata in E flat, Op. 7


•"Das Wandern", "Wohin", "Der Muller und der Bach"

•An die ferne Geliebte

•Totentanz (solo piano version)

Well, this is going to be one of "those" reviews.

When I write a review of a performance, I try to strive for something constructive; I think the perfect review is entertaining, informative and comprehensible to the prospective listener while at the same time remaining constructive and meaningful as as critique for the performer. If I had to sit down with Mr. Nebolsin and tell him what I thought of his performance, the conversation might go something like this:

Eldar Nebolsin: What did you think of my performance?
Pierre Miller: Well, it was certainly technically capable.
EN: That's all?
PM: Well, it was.
EN: If you had to sum it up in a word?
PM: In a single word? Affected.
EN: Really?
PM: Yes, the exposition of the first movement of the Beethoven sonata came with a good deal of chin wagging, and in the fourth movement, every hand crossing came with its own cutesy facial expression. I didn't see the Schubert sonata, but in the transcriptions, every time the music expressed humor, you brought everything to a full stop and made a cheesy grin. Fortunately, the rest of your Liszt was just as histrionic as it should be. To be honest, it's been a long time since I've seen anyone swivel, gyrate, gesticulate and pivot on their heel that much while sitting down who wasn't four years old.
EN: In two words?
PM: Incompletely polished. The Beethoven sonata was well played, but in the slow, emotional core of the sonata, you didn't let the music breathe enough. You tried to give it some breadth, but you only projected an incomplete sense of repose, which gave us the impression that the music was tired, but wasn't sleeping well. In the last two of the Schubert-Liszt pieces, your phrasing was nothing but virile statements: strong openings, strong closes–even in the weeping, sinuous lines of The Miller and the Brook, you took music that was weeping and tried to make it sound heroic. (And, not in a Cuba Gooding Jr. "strong and powerful through the tears" sort of way.) In the Beethoven-Liszt, you had your first really great emotional moment, but I don't think anybody noticed because it happened in the middle of a thick stack of boring, unknown, homogenous-sounding pieces. The bland harmony was irritating enough without having to hear you sight-read it and work out what you wanted to do with your touch. That reminds me of two other words I would use to describe your program.
EN: What's that?
PM: Oddly programmed. The Liszt transcriptions of An die fern Geliebte? Those were not forgotten masterworks. Nobody cares about them! Perhaps you knew that the music couldn't stand on its own without the benefit of text. This might explain why you distracted us by swirling around like a top. You intentionally made the last half of the program all Liszt–surely, Liszt wrote better things!
EN: What was the best part of the concert?
PM: I like that you took off your coat and untucked your shirt before you played the Totentanz. You played it well, and I liked the way you rewrote the ending. You ended the concert with a very good bang, and it earned you a standing ovation. However, it was kind of awkward the way you kept squeezing out encores even though the audience had almost completely stopped clapping and was packing up. Gauge us next time.