Fortunately for New York audiences, Pierre-Laurent Aimard appears here fairly frequently. The works he chose this time indicate the breadth of his interests and also his amazing dexterity. The works in the first half were presented without pause, and although stylistically distinguishable are connected by their adventurously creative elements.
Aimard began with pieces by the early avant-garde Russian Nikolai Obukhov (1892-1954, he died in Paris) who studied with Rimsky-Korsakov. However, his music is experimental and steeped in religious mysticism, akin to but different from Scriabin. He wrote primarily miniatures, mostly for piano (although his unfinished oratorio The Book of Life runs over two-thousand pages); contemporary with Schoenberg he toyed with twelve-tone composition, devised a new notational system, and invented electronic instruments. Obukhov sought to combine tonal and atonal elements to achieve “total harmony” and was one of the first composers to use frequent metrical changes. Création d’or combines elements of impressionism and expressionism in which dissipated chords, flitting figures, disassociated tones and other cellular scraps mix with jittery trills in a mélange of isolated sounds infused with strong dynamic contrasts, radical sonorities and chromatic harmonies in an ostensibly unstructured format. Révélation consists of six provocatively titled shorts with apocalyptic leanings. Harsh snatches of seemingly disconnected ideas contrast with meditative musings, which are quickly uprooted by distraught intrusions. In the closing ‘Vérité’ a somber aura transports us to a realm beyond time and space. The Liszt pair followed as if a natural consequent. The opening of ‘Les jeux d’eaux’ glistened with furtive trills, evoking the fountains’ gushing spray. The Messiaen, here curlews, also fitted. Deep chords countered by a filigree of rapid isolated notations generate a swirling effect countered by noisy banging that Aimard played with incredible strength. A series of strong dissonant chords reprise trills until they are pounded into submission by huge chords that darken the atmosphere of the closing section. Without a break the ferocious opening of Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata was upon us, music of nervous agitation, languid phrases and increasing intensity. Aimard’s performance was simply mesmerizing.
It all came together with the ‘Hammerklavier’. Aimard’s forceful attack, agitated motion and heightening of dramatic contrasts made the outer movements considerably overwrought, giving the music a violent character that some might find excessive (such as the wild fury with which the first movement concluded). Such an approach is certainly appropriate for the fantastic Scherzo. Aimard sees the lengthy slow movement as a respite from life’s struggles; a church-like solemnity settled over the music, Aimard creating tender, yearning expression. With a Finale high on energy and dynamic power, combined with incredible technical skills, Aimard’s account overall was overwhelming. For an encore he offered ‘Waiting for Susan’ from György Kurtág extensive Játékok (Games) collection.