Sonata in C, Op.53 (Waldstein)
Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.36 [1931 version]
Three Mazurkas, Op.56 in B, C, and C minor
Sonetto 123 del Petrarca
Hungarian Rhapsody No.15 (Rakoczy March; arr. Horowitz)
Alexei Grynyuk (piano)
Reviewed by: Rob Pennock
Reviewed: 1 May, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Recently I have attended several recitals by young pianists including Lang Lang and Llŷr Williams, which proved disappointing. The Ukranian Alexei Grynyuk had rather more to offer. However, the organisation of this concert left much to be desired. The programme consisted of a sheet of A4 with no notes on the music, an item missing and no indication as to whether the Rachmaninov was the 1913 or 1931 version; and these sheets were in short supply, too. The recital itself started 10 minutes late and people were still making their way to their seats as Grynyuk sat down. At the start of the Waldstein’s Adagio a couple were allowed to clatter into seats at the rear of the hall and hold a whispered conversation. And across the aisle from me a man fell asleep and started snoring: instead of being asked to leave at the interval an attendant sat behind him to prod him to wake up! And I won’t even dwell on the very slow bar-service. The Wigmore Hall thinks of itself as the world’s premiere chamber venue, but this was little more than amateurish.
Fortunately Grynyuk’s playing was rather better. In the first subject of the Waldstein the tempo was steady but the rhythmic shading was acute, the second subject had a Mozartian simplicity and the development combined power and fantasy. If the Adagio was slightly too fast, Grynyuk did manage to invest a sense of tranquillity and spirituality and his dynamic range at piano and below was impressive. His playing of the last movement was, like the first, measured, but he was certainly adventurous in his use of dynamics and tonal shading. However, he also came close to pounding the piano in some passages. Like so many pianists – of all ages – he failed to realise that the Hall’s acoustics are well-nigh perfect and that pianos are superbly maintained: so that what might sound like ff in another hall will sound far louder in the Wigmore.
Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata – in the 1931 revision – received a very powerful and expressive performance where the first subject was propulsive and the second was allowed to sing without too much reduction in tempo. The development was very forceful and Grynyuk used a very wide range of expressive devices; unfortunately though, once again, come the climax he pounded the piano and thus sacrificed tone. The opening of the second movement was too loud and the second theme was too slow and the use of ‘hairpin’ dynamics sounded self-conscious, nevertheless the phrasing had an authentic sense of melancholy flow. In the last movement the first theme needed greater rhythmic control and the weak second subject was too slow; in the coda Grynyuk lacked the sheer power and control that made Horowitz so memorable in this music.
Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasy was marginally too literal, the tone too full and rubato was not spontaneous. However the Mazurkas received highly distinctive performances. The liturgical chant-like elements of the first two were emphasised and although the final one was taken very slowly – it is marked Moderato – some superb dolce phrasing made it entirely convincing. Having recently heard Hamelin, Lang Lang and Lortie play Liszt as soulless technical exercises, it was a relief to hear Grynyuk play the Petrarch Sonnet; it’s not a showpiece, rather it is great middle-period Liszt. Grynyuk invested the chorale theme with a clear outline, great weight and fluent right-hand runs and, unlike all of the pianists listed, there was genuine nervous tension in the playing. Then came the unannounced item, something from Liszt’s Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, I believe. In the famous Rakoczy March Grynyuk unleashed a torrent of pianistic effects and revelled in what a concert grand can do; it was in no way restrained or tasteful, but like Horowitz it was hair-raisingly brilliant. As encores he played the last of Rachmaninov’s Opus 32 Preludes and Rimsky’s Flight of the Bumble-Bee in, I think, Cziffra’s arrangement.
This recital was far from perfect. Grynyuk occasionally hammered and some of his playing was wilful, but he does have a personality and takes risks. I would question the wisdom of playing the Beethoven and Rachmaninov Sonatas in the same half, but I look forward to hearing him again.