Berezovsky in Hong Kong


Without a doubt, the highlight of Saturday’s concert at the Cultural Centre was Tchaikovsky‘s Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor,. Boris Berezovsky, who won the god at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990, some 20 years ago. He has recorded Chopin, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Mussogorsky, Balakiev, Medtner, Ravel and Liszt and has won numerous prizes with various music magazines, newspapers,  radio etc with various labels including Teldec and Harmonia Mundi.
 
For me, Berezovsky‘s  Saturday night concert was remarkable for two reasons: the way he appeared and the way he performed. He is the first pianist I saw who dressed in what appeared an all-leather suit! He is tall and bulky. But his physical size is not confined to his body. the size of the sound from his powerful yet nimble fingers is every bit as formidable. He plays the piano in the Russian tradition. He treats the piano as a percussive intrument which he will not hesitate to pound and hammer to extract the last decibel of resonance from it. We know from physics that when hit, the piano will emit not just a primary tone. The harder it is hit, the more harmonics it will generate and which endure in the air for a much longer period. The net effect of this type of play is that an unusually rich sound from the piano will shower the concert hall as the harmonics from the previous notes get mixed in with the primary tones from the subequent notes. It will be as if a kind of sonic flower with radiating waves of sound will bloom and which will merge with each other in a sonic eruption or explosion., thus producing an extremely complex sound structure which softer hits on the keyboard will never be able to produce or reproduce. He reminds me of the play of Richter. But there is a difference. If necessary, Richter can play very softly, almost as if his fingers were just caressing the keyboard. I did not see Berezovsky do that. Even in his softer passages, there is a certain mechanical quality in his play. I can see that he tried very hard to play the soft notes very soft. Perhaps he tried too hard. As a result his muscles got all tensed up. Whenever he finished playing a passage, he would immediately remove his hands very brusquely from the keyboard, in an energetic swing away from the piano to his sides, almost as if he wanted to instantly relax the muscles on his hands and fingers, to give them a much needed immediate rest so that he could the better concentrate forthwith on his next passage. For this reason, I like his strong passages much better than his soft passages. Also, I found that when he played the first movement, I got the feeling that somehow, the co-ordination with the HKPO under Perry So was not all that one would desire. Sometimes, it sounded as if each was playing independently of the other and for some passages, the sound of the HKPO almost completely drowned that from Berezovsky‘s piano. But he seemed to get into form from the latter part of the second movement and he was magnificent in the final movement, which he played a second time as an encore!.His dialogue with the cello and wind instruments was also excellent.  He also played another very fast piece as a second encore. He did tell us what it was but I could not hear what he was saying. It was a very fast piece which gave him the chance to show off his speed and agility by his lightning swift fingerwork. It was simply wonderful. One could never get enough of his last movement of the Tchaikovsky‘s No.1 Piano Concerto.
 
 In the second half of the programme, the HKPO gave a very impressive performance of Prokofiev‘s Symphony No. 5 in  B flat. This was one of the few works permitted to be performed by Stalin. I suppose one of the reasons was that he said that it was a song in praise of the Russian people in its resistance against German invasion. It was supposed to inspire the Russian people to fight the German aggressors.  He said he wrote it "to sing the praises of the free and happy man–his strength, his generosity and the purity of his soul.". Indeed it is very inspiring, full of positive notes and mood. In the second movement, there was a persistent rhythm of the music from the strings in staccato form which some thought might be intended to imitate the sound of soldiers marching in relentlessly regular steps. The symphony was premiered in January 1945 and was conducted by Prokofiev himself. This is one of the best loved of Prokofiev‘s symphonies. Full use was made of the brass and the percussions. It also brought a fiery and jubilant conclusion to the evening’s concert, with the HKPO playing at full strength and sound to thunderous applauses.
 
But the concert began in a completely different note, a very meditative and almost impressionist piece written by a Russian composer called Anatol Liadov. It did not have a very distinct melodic line but certain motifs were endlessly repeated but always with variations. The piece was compposed originally as part of an opera which Liadov never finished. There was definitely a very out of the world feeling to the piece. When I looked at the programme notes, it was reported that Liadov once said: "Art is a figment, a fairy tale, a phantom. Give me a fairy tale, a dragon, something unreal and I am happy." The piece, called Enchanted Lake was premiered in St. Petersburg on 21st February, 1909, just before the first world war. It was a very atmospheric piece, with plenty of high notes, as if one were trying to portray heaven and the astral spheres, a little like the work of another Russian composer, Scriabin. I like it. It is so good to be able to listen to music of different styles. Each composer put his soul into what he wrote and we see his soul, through his music, his most intimate feelings and get an  imaginative tour of his heart! This is one of the advantages of going to concerts. Each conductor will try to introduce to us some relatively minor composers and minor work which we would never otherwise listen to. It opened up our minds and our hearts to novel musical experiences so we would not turn round and round endlessly within the monotonous tunes accompanying the carousel of our narrow-mindedness  and limited exposure to different styles of music.  How dull life would be without  new music!!!
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