Behzod Abduraimov first commanded international attention while still a teenager with his stunning victory at the 2009 London International Piano Competition. His electrifying performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3 launched a career that has shown no sign yet of waning, and although still only in his twenties he continues to be invited to perform with major orchestras and at major music festivals. Many of the audience tonight had heard Abduraimov several years ago, also in the MRC Great Performers Series. Based on tonight’s performance he is sure to be invited again, and one suspects sooner rather than later.
The recital opened with Chopin’s 24 Préludes Opus 28, a work whose genesis and impact has been so tellingly explored by Australian writer Paul Kildea in the recently published Chopin’s Piano – A Journey through Romanticism. Deceptively titled Préludes, the collection, rarely if ever performed as a complete cycle during Chopin’s lifetime, is a veritable tour de force, many of the Préludes resembling dazzling moto perpetuo virtuoso studies rather than the more gently meandering introductory musings that the title perhaps suggests. Abduraimov offered a muscular, big-toned reading of the cycle – no hint of the enervating tuberculosis that was affecting the already slightly-built composer when he composed these Préludes here. Tempi were brisk, pauses between Préludes were minimal, and even in the slower (and more celebrated) Préludes, Abduraimov maintained a sense of flow and linear integrity that only heightened the cycle’s architectural unity. Some Préludes, notably the more turbulent E flat minor and G minor ones, were perhaps too generously pedalled for this acoustic, but elsewhere pedalling was deft, exploring all manner of nuanced half- and quarter-pedal effects that are indispensable to seasoned Chopinists. The opus concluded with a tempestuous D minor Prélude, where Abduraimov persuasively unleashed his inner virtuoso.
After interval, by way of contrast (although the program notes tried just a little too hard to find putative links between the three works in the recital), Abduraimov offered Debussy’s Children’s Corner, a work that betrays the anglophile composer’s love of both English and American culture. This was a reading that was infused with just the right level of naïveté and insouciance, nuanced yet never too perfumed, and with a splash of humour and grandiloquence in the none-too-subtle Tristan quotation in the final, ever-popular, “Golliwog’s Cakewalk”.
But the program’s highlight undoubtedly came in the final magnum opus, Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, a work more familiar to many in one of its many orchestrations, rather than in the piano original, which remained unperformed during the composer’s lifetime. Architect Victor Alexandrovich Hartmann, a friend of the composer, died suddenly at the age of 39 and the noted art and music critic Vladimir Stasov – to whom Pictures is dedicated – organised a Hartmann Memorial Exhibition of paintings, sketches and watercolours, which in turn inspired Mussorgsky. While many of the scenes depicted reflect the amateur artist’s travels to France, Italy and Poland, the piano composition remains quintessentially Russian, challenging even the greatest of virtuosos, not only in its pianistic athleticism but also in its detailed musical evocation of Hartmann’s disparate scenes. Here Abduraimov’s rich orchestral sonorities, infinitely varied tonal palette and assured sense of rhythm and proportion served Mussorgsky well. The towering finale, “The Great Gate of Kiev”, brought the performance to a thrilling conclusion, proving to be a great hit with the appreciative audience.
A well-deserved standing ovation resulted in a pair of encores, the second of which was an utterly scintillating rendition of Liszt’s super-virtuoso étude La Campanella, replete with thrilling trills, unerring rapid-fire leaps, and a kaleidoscopic wealth of tonal hues and pianistic gymnastics. At one stage Abduraimov’s hands were moving with hummingbird-like rapidity, a blur to the eye, yet with crystalline sonic clarity and precision. For this audience at least, Abduraimov cannot return too soon.
Glenn Riddle reviewed the piano recital given by Behzod Abduraimov as part of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Great Performers Series in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall on November 11, 2019.