Yulianna Avdeeva Impresses in Brahms

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brahms, Beethoven, Yulianna Avdeeva (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London, 16.1.2014 (CC)

Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15
Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68, ‘Pastoral’

The first female participant to win the prestigious Chopin Competition since 1965 – the previous female winner was Martha Argerich – Yulianna Avdeeva is a fine pianist who clearly deserves her success. When she won it, in 2010, it is notable that the third prize winner was one Daniil Trifonov, about whom I have waxed lyrical several times on this site. Two things crossed my mind as Avdeeva walked on stage: slight of frame, how she would cope with this titanic piece; secondly, her intriguing concert apparel of tails and high heels. Was this an unspoken comment on the general association of the Brahms concerts with male soloists?

In the event, Avdeeva was musicality personified. Clearly happy in dialogue with her orchestral colleagues, she seemed like a pianistic chameleon, one moment the clear, heroic soloist, the next she was the chamber musician. Her realisation of Brahms’ part-writing was supremely considered throughout. She has power, too, although perhaps the sound should be more bass-driven in this repertoire. Yet she can match the orchestra when required. The fast, driven tempo for the first movement posed no technical problems for her. Perhaps all had not totally gelled in this expansive first movement. Nor was the central Adagio a total success, despite Avdeeva’s fine rubato and superb trills. She under-projected somewhat and, worse, did not totally sustain the musical argument. The finale was the most successful movement. Avdeeva’s clarity throughout was of sterling quality, her sound deliberately brighter. Unafraid to dispense with the pedals, her reading was one of great character. Clarity was again her watchword.

The second part of the concert was intriguing, if not always involving. Jurowski’s ‘Pastoral’ was a brisk affair, unsentimental and unwilling to linger. He opted for period trumpets and period (shotgun) timpani but for valved horns and modern wind. As my Seen & Heard reviewing colleague Carl Dowthwaite, who was also present, remarked: “you’re either pregnant or you’re not”.

Of course, the timpani worked effectively in the storm section; but if the horns had been period too could they not have frolicked more rustically in the third movement? That said, the orchestra was on top form, the violins in particular well-drilled. Despite the period clipped phrases of the first movement, it was not convincingly fresh, however; in contrast, the swift ‘Scene by the brook’ second movement sounded fresh-minted, with plenty of detail and with magnificent harmonic sensitivity throughout. The bird imitations at the movement’s close were delightful; the lines of the finale had great purity, and there was a lovely sense of flow.

Despite all the positives, there was the feeling that this ‘Pastoral’ had not quite gelled yet as an interpretation. The concert was worthwhile to experience Avdeeva, however. Her combination of solid technique and high musicality bodes well.

Colin Clarke