Behzod Abduraimov at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Schubert, Beethoven & Liszt

Piano Sonata in A, D664
Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Scherzo and March, S177
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S173 – III: Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Mephisto Waltz No.1 (Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke)

Behzod Abduraimov (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 20 November, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Behzod Abduraimov. Photograph: ©Decca/Ben EalovegaThe International Piano Series goes from strength to strength, with this debut from Behzod Abduraimov – by one of those quirks of London concert-planning Evgeny Kissin was playing at the Barbican at the same time). The 22-year-old Abduraimov from Tashkent has blossomed into a formidable artist since winning the 2009 London International Piano Competition. His recital celebrated his natural, abundant musicianship, which made his performance of Schubert’s radiant A major Piano Sonata such a pleasure. Abduraimov unfolded it with unforced ease, rather like a great performance of a Chekhov play that disguises its sophistication beneath a conversational flow. Abduraimov picked up on all the clues that Schubert drops to give the first movement its cohesion, and made their points with the sort of fleeting emphasis that you catch only in retrospect. His finely realised separation of textures, the limpid lyricism and his willingness to mark time over Schubert’s magical harmonic shifts paid great dividends in the tender Andante. The way Abduraimov caught its withdrawn sense of wonder was artlessness of a very special kind – Chekhov again – and full of romantic perception. A bustling finale, with a sure hand on its discursive potential, clinched an affecting performance that had that rare quality – grace – to its fingertips.

The ‘Appassionata’ moved up a few gears towards the powerhouse virtuosity that Abduraimov delivers in such style. It was a huge performance, with an impressive overview, especially in the first movement. Every detail made its mark with unerring precision, underpinned by ferocious rhythmic momentum. I’d have preferred a more veiled Andante – the spread chord that heralds the finale’s turbulence didn’t flag up a strong enough contrast. But the last movement itself really hit the spot – intense, heroic and with bravura weight. Where he found the reserves of power for the manic dissolution of the coda was anyone’s guess. In short, it was possessed, and I was pole-axed.

Possession continued more or less unabated in the Liszt. Even by his standards, Scherzo and March is prodigiously difficult. Abduraimov kept firmly in touch with its pounding rhythms (with a fair amount of foot-stamping), relentless energy and not so covert orchestral possibilities. It felt like the 12 Transcendental Studies rolled into one, and Abduraimov’s involvement with its stupendous technical challenges was transcendental.The only things that slightly marred Bénédiction de Dieu were a couple of moments of clumsy pedalling. Otherwise Liszt’s revelation emerged with great serenity, with some spellbinding moments when Abduraimov just let the music stand and stare. The climactic fortissimos grew with incredible force – Abduraimov never banged them out, although they had awesome weight – and the accumulative ebb and flow of the main theme advanced with visionary certainty. The Mephisto Waltz was a marvel of Lisztian rhetoric at its most unbuttoned, interspersed with passages of pleasingly erotic languor.

Abduraimov’s encores – Domenico Scarlatti Sonatas Kk 96 and Kk27 – showed off the always surprising amount of expression baroque music can take. Abduraimov seems to have it all – an amazing technique, a musical wisdom and an intelligence of great maturity and an instantly communicated generosity of spirit. This was an electrifying recital.

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