Full-toned Dynamic Range and Rhythmic Command from Behzod Abduraimov at the Barbican

19/01/2018

Wagner, Liszt, Schubert and Prokofiev: Behzod Abduraimov (piano). Barbican Hall, London, 18.1.2018. (CC)

Behzod Abduraimov (c) Nissor Abdourazakov

Wagner/Liszt – Isolde’s Liebestod, S 447 (c1867)

Liszt – Piano Sonata in B minor, S 178 (1852/3)

SchubertMoment musical No.2 in A flat, D 780 (c1827)

Schubert/Liszt – Valse-Caprice No.6 in A minor (1852)

Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No.6 in A, Op. 82 (1939)

Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov’s Decca disc of Prokofiev Third Concerto), Tchaikovsky (First Concerto) and Tchaikovsky/Wild (‘Pas de quatre’ from Swan Lake) was an impressive release, one that showed him as that rare contradiction, a super-virtuoso capable of real, delicate musicality. He won the London International Piano Competition in 2009 with the Prokofiev (Sulamita Aronovsky, so associated with that competition, was in the relatively small audience for this London recital: seating was restricted to the stalls, and even they were not full).

Abduraimov is a fine and musical player. Interesting how on two consecutive nights London can offer two piano programmes with works of crippling difficulty in major venues (the one the night before being Alexander Melnikov and his tri-piano programme, including the Stravinsky Petrushka Pieces, at the Wigmore). The Wagner/Liszt Liebestod was nobly done, with a finely judged diminuendo and pedal work just prior to the arrival of the ‘Mild und leise’ beginning of the Liebestod proper. Abduraimov plays with the full dynamic range with full-tone pianissimo and fortissimo; his rhythmic command is equally confident.

The Liszt B-Minor Sonata is usually found at the end of concert programmes, but Abduraimov is one of those pianists who seems tireless. Staccato but not stabbing opening octaves led to a performance of infinite light and shade. The occasional careful moment early on (the second double octave leap) was soon forgotten; muscular passages put me in mind of Lazar Berman in this piece (both on EMI/Melodiya on LP and live at the Festival Hall) but Abduraimov has a more intimate approach to the quieter, even more mystical, passages. The only passages that seemed out of place in his reading were those with obsessively repeated bass ostinato. Pollini, in his astonishing DG reading, sees them very much as prefigurations of Liszt’s late period, and frequently programmes late Liszt immediately prior to the Sonata, moving from them to the larger piece without a break. Perhaps, too, Liszt’s fugal writing might have emerged a touch more Mephistophelean, but there was no doubt of Abduraimov’s grasp of the piece’s structure. Climaxes were astonishingly loud (I was glad I was not nearer the piano); perhaps it was this aspect that led to the pre-emptive applause after the work’s ending.

Nice to have a Schubert Moment musical to start the second half, and doubly canny programming as Abduraimov’s single encore was a charming performance of the F-Minor Moment musical, D780/3. The piece in the programme though was the A flat one, D780/2, given with beautifully weighted chords and a lovely pianissimo; sadly, on the larger scale, the performance felt diffuse rather than dreamy. The Schubert/Liszt Valse-Caprice found Abduraimov using a very different, brighter sound, transporting us to the world of Viennese dance (and even including the Viennese lilt to the dance rhythms). Abduraimov’s filigree was absolutely exquisite.

Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata is a very different animal to the Schubert and Schubert/Liszt offerings. Abduraimov’s way with the accented opening was muscular but neither brash nor harsh; he also found great contrasts; the first movement development seemed to prove that Abduraimov has absolutely internalised Prokofiev’s style, revelling in the more gestural moments. The Allegretto that followed was frequently charming, while the dreamy ‘Tempo di valzer lentissimo’ contained perfectly drawn counterpoint. The touch Abduraimov found for the rapid final Vivace was remarkable, each note perfectly placed. A truly remarkable achievement. Not for Abduraimov the granitic was of the legendary Richter in this ‘War Sonata’; contrast and humanity were there seeking to balance the violence. Superb: perhaps Abduraimov will draw a larger crowd next time? He deserves it.

Colin Clarke

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