Sunday 14 April 2013

Rustem Hayroudinoff piano recital

Rustem Hayroudinoff
Russian pianist Rustem Hayroudinoff (strictly he's a Tatar by nationality, he was born in Kazan) was probably the first student to come straight out of Soviet Russia and into the Royal Academy of Music and has now become one of the youngest Professors of Piano at the RAM. His solo recital at St John's Smith Square on Saturday 13 April 2013 was a highly ambitious affair, with a programme starting with J.S. Bach's Partita no. 2 and C.P.E. Bach's Sonata in F sharp minor and finishing with Rachmaninov's mammoth Piano Sonata No. 1 Opus 28. In between we had Liszt's Sonnetto 123 del Petrarca (Petrarch's Sonnet 123) and Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No 1.

Bach's own description of his keyboard partitas is surprisingly depreciating, referring to them on the title page as 'Keyboard Exercises', though they are of course more substantial than this. Bach sticks to the traditional use of dance movements in the suites, Partita no. 2 consists of a substantial Sinfonia followed by an Allemand, Courante, Sarabane, Rondo and Capriccio. As with most of Bach's dance-based forms, you could not imagine dancing to the music, the movements are instead striking explorations of the polyphonic keyboard art. If we compare Bach to his great contemporary Handel, both renowned keyboard virtuosos, both were quite free with their keyboard suites. Bach stuck to the traditional sequences of dance music, but stretched to the forms to suite his purposes, whilst Handel didn't use the traditional dance sequences at all.

After a grand opening to Partita no 2, Hayroudinoff allowed the Sinfonia to develop in a quite delicate way, with the final fugal passage played briskly. He played the Bach with quite a dry touch, crisp and clear with a fine sense of line. Not quite Historically Informed Performance, but certainly not a big Romantic sound, a nice half-way house with clarity of line as primacy. Hayroudinoff also brought out the interesting rhythmic syncopations that Bach introduces into the different lines. The Allemand was given with a nice poetic touch, still with a strong differentiation between the lines. The Courante was all crisp brilliance, taken at a brisk tempo. Hayroudinoff played the graceful Sarabande with gentle clarity. The joyful Rondo was followed by a brilliant Capriccio, taken at fast speed but Hayroudinoff's even fingerwork ensured clarity.

C.P.E Bach was J.S. Bach's second surviving son. Not surprisingly, with such a strong musical personality as J.S.Bach as his only teacher, C.P.E.Bach's music was different to his father's. He is an important way station between J.S.Bach and Mosart, on whom he had a strong influence. Hayroudinoff played C.P.E.Bach's Sonata in F sharp minor, a quirky three movement work. In the opening movement, Hayroudinoff brought out the interplay between the two contrasting themes, one fast, furious and toccata-like, the other gentler. Hayroudinoff's passage-work in the faster sections was dazzling, creating an explosive contrast in subjects. The middle movement was gentler, given a lovely singing line by Hayroudinoff. There was an interesting sparseness of texture, with some quirky harmonies. The lively third movement had a rather jerky, jumpy theme and this movement confirmed the impression formed by the earlier movements, that the piece reminded me very much of the keyboard works by Domenico Scarlatti.

Next came the pair of Liszt works. His Sonnetto 123 del Petrarca (Petrarch's Sonnet 123) comes from his Annes de pelerinage, the second year, Italy. Liszt revised his Three Petrarch Sonnets for tenor and piano as piano solos for inclusion in Annes de pelerinage and sonnet 123 is the middle one. In the transcription of the song, Liszt has preserved the singing line, but accompaniment has moved away from Liszt's Bellini-inspired original. Hayroudinoff opened with a lovely transparent texture, and even when the writing got more passionate, there were moments of transparency; poetry shot through with virtuosity.

The last work in the first half was Liszt's Mephisto Waltz no. 1, based not on Goethe but on Niklaus Lenau. Hayroudinoff brought out the highly coloured nature of the piece. He was crisply rhythmic and technically dazzling. But he never lost sight of the narrative behind the piece, rising to a terrific orgiastic climax.

For the second half of the recital there was just one work, Rachmaninov's Piano Sonata No. 1, Op. 28. This was written in 1908 in Dresden, along with the second symphony. It is a huge piece, lasting over 35 minutes, and Rachmaninov originally based it on Goethe's Faust. I understand that Rachmaninov dropped this association, but in his spoken introduction Hayroudinoff took us through the various themes and their links to the characters from Faust and in fact this did help to clarify the first movement with its four different themes representing aspects of Faust's character.

The first movement, with its associations with Faust himself and four contrasting themes, is a sprawling piece. From the outset it is highly taxing with fistfuls of notes. Hayroudinoff brought power and strength to the work, bringing out the restless struggle in the piece. He is one of those players who remains expressive even when playing loudly, Rachmaninov seemed to like embedding his themes in the middle of complex textures, and Hayroudinoff brought out the poetry of the line whilst surrounding it with the requisite texture. The second movement, with its association with Marguerite, was a complex texture of intertwining themes. Hayroudinoff brought out the innate singing quality and gave the movement great limpid beauty.

Listening to the sonata, I was struck by how echoes of Rachmaninov's other works come through with hints of the second symphony and the piano concertos. In the final movement, associated with Mephistopheles, it was noticeable how Rachmaninov's piano writing was familiar from the way he used similar motivic structures and ways for writing for the piano in his concertos. This movement returned to restless struggle, again with cascades of notes. 

Hayroudinoff played the sonata from memory, as he did all the programme, and the performance was a terrific tour de force. This was a highly ambitious programme which Hayroudinoff brought off with aplomb, combining technical virtuosity with great poetry. He introduced each work, making illuminating and pertinent comments as well as demonstrating the themes in the Rachmaninov,  in fact I could have listened to more.

If I have a complaint about the concert it was that the programme was perhaps a little too long, with slightly too much rich musical fare. There was a danger of musical indigestion. And it would have been nice to have heard Hayroudinoff  talking for longer about the music being played.

That said, this was a stupendous concert and the response from the rather select audience was deservedly enthusiastic. We were treated to an encore, this time for the left hand only, a striking end to a richly virtuosic and poetic evening.

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