United Kingdom Beethoven, Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Ravel: Alim Beisembayev (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 5.1.2024. (CC)
Beethoven – Piano Sonatas: No.23 in F minor, Op. 7, ‘Appassionata’; No.31 in A-flat major, Op.110
Scriabin – Four Preludes, Op.22
Rachmaninov – Prelude in B minor, Op.32/10; Etude-tableau in D, Op.39/9
Ravel – Gaspard de la nuit
Alim Beisembayev won the Leeds Piano Competition in 2021 (he also won the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society Award and the medici.tv Audience Prize that year). It was a deserved win (although Thomas Kelly made quite the impression, too). Beisembayev’s recorded Liszt for Decca (the Transcendental Studies) is a stupendous achievement, too; so small wonder this was a totally sold-out concert.
Indeed, with a repertoire that encompasses the Liszt Transcendental Studies, it is also perhaps unsurprising that Beisembayev elected to begin with Beethoven’s notorious ‘Appassionata’ Sonata (F minor, Op.57); unsurprising, too, that the finale’s Allegro ma non troppo was heavy on allegro with little indication of the ‘ma non troppo’; and yet there was still room for acceleration for the coda (Presto), and for those hectic semiquavers to make their effect. The first movement was underpinned by nervous energy encapsulated in the throbbing repeated notes as defined by Beisembayev’s attention to detail: a single-line descent which in other hands might have come across as unremarkable and transitional was here a line of perfectly pedalled light. The hymnic opening to the slow movement (Andante con moto) was beautifully judged, but what came across most strongly in Beisembayev’s reading was Beethoven’s debt to Bach, in his purity of delivery. It was impossible not to notice the technical elements (a supremely even left hand at speed, for example), but most of all this was a moving experience. The finale was the jewel in the crown, articulation an absolute joy, the journey to that coda expertly tracked. Beisembayev can lavish such care on detail precisely because he sees the bigger picture. It is a winning combination.
Born in 1998, and therefore still in his twenties, it is inconceivable that Beisembayev should be programming late Beethoven. And yet, this was a performance shot through with wisdom way ahead of his temporal years. Supreme control is clearly Beisembayev’s watchword, here put to the service of natural unfolding in the opening Moderato cantable molto espressivo. From the off, Beisembayev created a completely different sound palette, and yet one perfectly suited to Beethoven’s A-flat major. Linear working was again of prime concern. The opening of the Allegro molto danced beautifully; while the Adagio ma no troppo, taken at the perfect tempo, made time stand still. It might be noted at this point just how much Beisembayev held the audience in his thrall: there was hardly any audience noise throughout the entire concert. The Fuga emerged completely naturally out of the Adagio, itself shaped perfectly.
Interesting that for his Wigmore recital in 2022, Beisembayev opted for late Schubert (D 958) and I was less than convinced. His late Beethoven, in contrast, left me in no doubt as to his full grasp of this remarkable music.
Another chameleon shift post-interval, to the mystical harmonies of Alexander Scriabin and his Four Preludes, Op.22. These may be short pieces, but Beisembayev convinced us they each contain a whole world. The first starts as if launching into a post-Chopin Nocturne, but suddenly darkened notably, the second was quietly impassioned, while the third, an Allegretto in B major, emerged as a graceful dance. It was the fourth, in B minor, which was most remarkable, in that Beisembayev projected that work’s organicism against its flightiness, adding an extra layer of depth. He finds depth in Rachmaninov, too, both in the siciliano-like B minor Prelude from Op.32 (No.10) before projecting the extrovert Rachmaninov in the block-like chords of the D major Etude-tableau that closes the Op.39 set. It was perfectly paced, and even more exciting for it,
Finally, Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, I was very taken by Emanuel Despax’s performance at the Wigmore Hall in July last year (Mark Berry’s review here); Beisembayev was of an equivalent exalted level. Rarely have I heard the opening of ‘Ondine’ so even and yet so atmospheric, not just light textured, but positively luminous. Every note was audible, and yet the totality created a magic web of sound. ‘Le gibet’ asks so much of the pianist in terms of careful attack and articulation, and Beisembayev was infallible; more, he sustained the atmosphere perfectly throughout. The finale (‘Scarbo’) brought with it an interesting parallel to the ‘Appassionata’ with which the evening began; those repeated notes were back, similarly replete with potential energy. Perhaps Beisembayev’s ‘Scarbo’ was just a touch lacking in dark ecstasy as the music seeks to explode outwards all that trapped energy. Yet this was a remarkable performance overall … encores were inevitable.
Only two though, Chopin (Etude in A-flat) and Liszt, but it was the second (Transcendental Etude No.10) that truly caught the imagination. Alim Beisembayev is, beyond doubt, a remarkable talent, and on present evidence a pretty fully formed one, at that.