Piano Sonata No.1 in C, Op.1
Violin Partita in D-minor, BWV1004 – Chaconne, arr. Brahms
Der Wanderer, S558/11
Der Müller und der Bach, S565/2
Die Stadt, S560/1
Am Meer, S560/4
Fantasy in C, D760 (Wandererfantaisie)
Alexandre Kantorow (piano)
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 22 October, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
For his long-delayed Carnegie Hall debut – originally scheduled for March 2020 as a replacement for Murray Perahia but cancelled because of Covid – Alexandre Kantorow arrived with a daunting pedigree: winner of the 2024 Gilmore Artist Award and both the Gold Medal and the rarely awarded Grand Prix at the 2019 Tchaikovsky Competition.
The evening opened with Brahms – his first published opus, written aged twenty. Kantorow blended agility and strength in the opening theme of the long and difficult first movement, producing a splendid tone with wonderful weight and color, followed by the smoothest of touches in the lyrical second subject. He was similarly radiant in the Andante variations of the second movement, which he delivered, straight-backed, with delicate dexterity. The Scherzo, with its softly romantic Trio, was appropriately high-spirited, as was the Finale, dispatched at a vigorous tempo, played with passionate intensity throughout.
Next came Brahms’s stately and scrupulously faithful transcription for left-hand of Bach’s D-minor violin Chaconne. Kantorow’s account was magnificent – meticulous, full of color, with perfectly executed ebbs and flows of breadth and intensity.
After intermission, the pianist took on five Schubert Lieder transcribed by Liszt, successfully mediating between the arranger’s virtuosic style and the songwriter’s more introverted character in the songful, melody-rich works. Constantly mindful of variegated, atmosphere and singing tone, Kantorow successfully conveyed the joyless solitude of ‘Der Wanderer’, the balmy breezes of ‘Frülingslaube’, the mysteriously sinister character of ‘Die Stadt’, and the poignancy of ‘Am Meer’, but his playing was most moving in his unusually sensitive rendition of the hauntingly beautiful ‘Der Müller und der Bach’.
The program concluded with Schubert’s Fantasy in C, based in part on the ‘Wanderer’ song, and where the sparkling opening pages recall the first passages in the Brahms Sonata that opened the evening. Kantorow threw himself into the prodigious piece with abandon, tackling the demanding writing with ease. His playing was endlessly imaginative throughout the four movements as he alternated poetic expressivity with daunting displays of virtuosity. The tender Adagio was enthralling, and the finger-busting fugato Finale a brilliant array of orchestral sonorities.
There were two encores, a gently flowing rendition of Nina Simone’s transcription of Camille Saint-Saëns’s ‘Mon Coeur d’ouvre à ta voix’ from Samson et Dalila and a glittering account of the Finale from Stravinsky’s The Firebird (transcr. Guido Agosti).