Behzod Abduraimov was the star international pianist last night in the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Great Performers Series in Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. This young man has tremendous facilities and plays every piece with a chiseled determination, both in the vigour of the emotional attack and the sculpting of the music’s finer and larger details.
In three fabulous encores that concluded the recital, Abduraimov’s characteristics were dissected in three contrasting pieces. The first being the Schubert-Liszt Valse-Caprice No 6 played with charming dynamic gradations and immaculate florid decorations. This was workmanlike performance, almost no lilt anywhere, but with calculated moments of rubato that were musically refined and always tremendously taut – it was as close to charming as possible.The following encore, Liszt’s La Campanella, was thrown to the audience in an astounding display of pianistic fireworks, and in addition, played with an organisation that allowed the various moods of the variations within the Etude to pop out, submerge and reemerge seamlessly without effort. In the concluding Nocturne in C-sharp minor by Tchaikovsky, Abduraimov drew the audience into a world of simplicity and sustained lyricism.
The three main qualities above (the fleeting moments of charm, the devilish virtuosity and the almost withdrawn simplicity of Abduraimov’s playing) were on display in the larger canvasses of the recital program. The immaculate moments were the ones where Abduraimov went beyond these qualities. This wasn’t quite reached in the opening number, Busoni’s arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. In a performance sculpted to perfection and played with dazzling pianistic colour and fire, it nonetheless failed to arouse the feeling of precocious invention, a searching quality in the more intimate moments, a sense of loss and wonder at times, and ultimately, a sense of spontaneous flair. Some of the best moments last night came in the contrasting Schubert pieces (Nos. 2 &3) from the Moment Musicales, especially the wandering and deeply Romantic qualities of No 2 with its contrasting inner sections (one super intimate, the other a painful outburst) interweaving a simple opening section that returns time and time again with varied ornamentation. Abduraimov’s tightly constructed playing, here in the finer and larger details, gave the performance an incredible power set against the backdrop of that eternal pulse that strikes at the heart of Schubert’s Romanticism. And similar to the Valse-Caprice encore, the second Moment Musicale on offer here was played with charming moments, if tremendously organised and taut most of the time.
Two substantial Sonatas followed, beginning with the famous Beethoven “Appassionata”. This popular work remains a favourite with audiences, with its famous opening, a noble slow movement leading to a finale that has an ending as famously frantic as the opening is famously slow and ominous. In lesser hands, the outer movements tend to sound episodic, the virtuosity vulgar and the music seems to only then come alive at certain points and hence, the sonata feels particularly long. This was far from the performance that Abduraimov gave which was once again, according to earlier form, tightly constructed, straight forward and finely chiseled in its delivery. In the first movement, Abduraimov created incredible tension in the maintenance of repetitive tremolos and arpeggiated figures over thematic material, often propelling the music’s narrative forward. His playing is one that doesn’t wait for anything, and in this movement, it helped to organise the sprawling virtuosity and adventure of the movement so much so that the ominous opening still rang in the ears as the same motif closed the movement. This is surely what Beethoven wanted, the intensity of the piano writing between the opening and closing to be so revolutionary that the sonata form structure is seemingly “lost” to a more fantastical feeling. In the second movement, Abduraimov forged ahead again, carefully elucidating the exact details that were illuminating in each variation, whilst maintaining a metronomical rein on the initial pacing of the opening theme that occurs, unaffected, throughout. In the expansive finale, which Abduraimov played with the repeat, the bubbling tension and momentary outbursts were harnessed making way for a coda despatched with tremendous abandonment and excitement.
After interval, we were treated to another fine performance of the Prokofiev Sonata No 6. Once again, Abduraimov was in fine form with the same attributes that defined his Beethoven performance earlier. In the first movement, he raced through the development section, grabbing every detail and every fist full of notes, in a performance that clearly defined the sonata’s important moments. In the second movement’s tour de force of detached-punctuated chords (which is a humourous combination of accompaniment and theme all in one!), Abduraimov delivered all the details (the sarcastic and pompous left hand melody and the humorous arpeggios that latch onto the theme!) with incredible panache. In the big slow movement, Abduraimov kept the pace steady in a performance that still had room to delineate the interesting countermelodies and give weight to the orchestral textures of the various climaxes. And keeping with form, the thunderous virtuosity of the finale was every bit as exciting as all the other high-octane moments of this hugely impressive recital.