Conviction Meets Poetry: Alexander Romanovsky in Rome

ItalyItaly Alexander Romanovsky (piano). Teatro Olimpico Rome, The Uto Ughi per Roma Festival , 27.9.2012 (JB)

Bach: Fantasia and Fugue in A minor BWV 904
Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Paganini Op. 35
Chopin:  24 Preludes, Op 28.

It’s two years since I last heard Alexander Romanovsky. Back then, his pianistic authority was remarkable. Now it has been turned up. This is as powerful as pianism gets on today’s scene, the kind of playing which makes you feel confident that this young man is in the driver’s seat. Sentimentality has been thrown to the winds. The steely tones of the Russian school are the driving force. And what a force! His magic fingers blaze a trail of unparalleled authority. And the audience thoroughly enjoyed the ride through some very varied musical terrain.

The programme began with the Bach A minor Fantasia and Fugue. Romanovsky didn’t bother to check that he had all the passengers on board. He knew they were there. (The Teatro Olimpico was full, about 800 people). As he wove his way through the intricacies of Bach’s counterpoint, it soon became clear that the audience were not following him: much more, they were with him with the descent of every key on the piano. You rarely get the thrill of a free ride with a pianist like this. Such was the shock of this musical experience that it took the audience almost a full minute to get back to earth as they then burst into tumultuous applause at the stunned experience.

The Brahms Paganini are frequently played as a long string of separate variations. Not so with Romanovsky. Each variation is used as a building block to construct a great cathedral of Brahmsian pianism. During the construction of this mighty musical edifice he has developed the extraordinary knack of stepping back, so to speak, so that the audience can see (that should be hear, of course) the building of the cathedral. Sonority is always the name of the game with Brahms. And here is a pianist who doesn’t disappoint the composer.

Another change of gear after the interval for the Chopin twenty-four preludes. Taken individually, the preludes can seem slight. But Romanovsky has another magic formula here too. He delivers the Preludes as though they were a song cycle, a Winterreise in fact. In the Romanovsky performance they are all about love. But this is not an easy love; every taste of it costs the lover pain. And different kinds of pain. A Winter’s Journey, certainly.

You know that Chopin was twenty-eight when he wrote these preludes he told me after the concert, And that is the age which I am now. I like to think that I have some identity with the composer. Indeed, sir. It is that identity which comes through in your playing. Rarely is a performer able to so completely emerge himself into the composition. I was recently at the Chopin Festival in Warsaw, he goes on, And I was most touched when they presented me with a facsimile of the Autograph of the Preludes printed on the same paper as the original. Is this when the mystical becomes concrete?

And I would have said that mysticism has no place in Romanovsky’s playing. But I would have been wrong. This is the point in his art where two unlikely partners –conviction and poetry- make love. But make no mistake. Sentimentality is still held at bay. He will have no truck with it. The steely tone persists, even when Chopin is most indebted to Bellini. But in some of these preludes, the steel has a mystical veil cast over it. And that was in evidence again in the Chopin E flat Op 55 Nocturne encore.

Jack Buckley