Boris Berezovsky at Royal Festival Hall

Piano Sonata No.21 in C, Op.53 (Waldstein)
Davidsbundlertänze, Op.6
Piano Sonata in B minor

Boris Berezovsky (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 15 March, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Boris BerezovskyThe recital worked in reverse order.

The most successful playing of the afternoon came in the two Rachmaninov Preludes from Opus 23, paired as a first encore. (The Chopin waltz that followed was less arresting.) Here, on the home-ground of his Russian heritage, Boris Berezovsky was lyrical and majestic, fine-crafted and commanding, sensitive and robust – the pianist I admire.

Liszt’s Sonata received an imperious outing, too. Meticulously, Berezovsky charted the mercurial twists and turns of this work – an impressive one-movement affair that includes just about every mood and style of concern to Liszt at the time of writing. Undaunted, confidently and smoothly, Berezovsky’s consummate pianism – he was at his best – took us through the dark opening, the lyrical outburst to follow and the passionate up-surging that sprang upon us next. We had romantic ardour and scaling the emotional heights; we had reflective calm and sensitive repose; we had a double fugue; we had a brief return to the opening darkness, before, with tongue in cheek maybe, we ended in tranquillity reaching into the serene. The handling of all this was tempestuous, singing and masterful.

Davidsbundlertänze was something of a curate’s egg. The melodies, when they came, were exquisite, in the gossamer tenderness and gentleness that is a hallmark of Berezovsky’s playing. The sections in between were faster and more muddied – turbulent, vigorous and unclear as to idiom.

Least impressive of all was the recital’s opening masterpiece – the ‘Waldstein’ Sonata. Of Berezovsky’s technical skill there is no doubt. His outlying movements sped past with nimble, hard-fingered accuracy. His first movement recalled one of the faster Schubert Impromptus – an exuberant exercise, virtually a study, scurrying adroitly up and down the keyboard. To some, the expertise was so appealing that they broke into a crass scattering of applause. The Adagio molto was serious enough; yet it lacked gravitas. In neither of the first two movements was there any sense of impelling drive, search or discovery. Indeed, they seemed to be treated as virtuoso preludes to the light-heart of the finale – delightful and skittish. There was no sign, anywhere, of Beethoven’s urgent, demonic joy.

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