Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Symphony No.4 in C minor, Op.43
Behzod Abduraimov (piano)
Reviewed by: Lewis M. Smoley
Reviewed: 27 January, 2015
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
In the midst of an extended world tour, with concerts nearly every day, it is a wonder that the Mariinsky Orchestra has the energy and stamina to perform with the tonal purity, extraordinary technical skill and unwavering commitment that the musicians displayed during this demanding program.
Given his extraordinary dexterity, high-voltage intensity and effusive flair, Behzod Abduraimov might well be thought the perfect combination of characters that Robert Schumann devised to mirror aspects of himself, the impassioned Florestan and the reflective Eusebius. In the wild ravages of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3’s outer movements he attacked the piano with savage fury, slashing at chords, racing furiously through scalar runs, and driving his considerable technique to its limits. Yet in the ‘theme and variations’ central movement,Abduraimov’s treatment of dreamy melody was tenderly romantic. Abduraimov has recorded this Concerto for Decca (with Tchaikovsky No.1) and he responded to enthusiastic applause with a lovely reading of the latter composer’s sentimental Nocturne in C sharp minor, Opus 19/3.
After intermission, Valery Gergiev gave a forceful and vigorous reading of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, brilliantly played. The strings were note-perfect in the dauntingly lengthy and rapid-paced stretches of figuration, and there were exquisitely played contributions by first-chair players. Grittiness in the low brass produced an earthy quality and enhanced darker passages in the first movement. The almost kaleidoscopic pattern of divergent musical ideas in the outer movements were seamlessly knitted together, from mischievously playful ‘circus music’ to tragic premonitions. Gergiev drove the faster speeds forward until the music virtually exploded, only to draw back into itself, as if confused about where to go next. Enormous outbursts and slashing thrusts heightened the savagery that brutalizes the first movement.
A tight and incisive Scherzo followed, an acrid fughetto section contrasting effectively with the enticing strains of the lyrical second subject. The influence of Mahler is apparent in the finale with its imitation of birdsong (particularly the cuckoo calls) in the woodwinds, the opening march theme and a repeating rhythmic figure from his ‘Resurrection’ Symphony that appears in the bass strings. Gergiev pressed the tempo forward to such an extent here that certain passages became almost mechanized. The climax that precedes the closing section was simply overpowering. Yet the mysterious atmosphere that pervades the ending, with its soft, but repeating iteration of a three-note figure heard earlier, didn’t engender the chilling presentiment of doom that keeps me awake so many nights after I return from a performance of this devastating masterpiece. Notwithstanding, this was an impressive performance.