A Russian Fiesta
Hong Kong Cultural Center Concert Hall
04/23/2010 - & April 24*
Anatol Liadov: The Enchanted Lake, Op. 62
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23
Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony No.5 in B-flat major, Op. 100
Boris Berezovsky (Piano)
Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Perry So (conductor)
B. Berezovsky (© David Crookes / Warner Classics)
Apart from inviting the celebrated Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky, HKPO’s concerts on Friday and Saturday were a true Russian fiesta, embracing works by three different Russian composers.
Among them, the name Anatol Liadov is perhaps the most underrated one. Like his famous compatriots Stravinsky and Prokofiev, Liadov was a pupil of the influential Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov when he studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire – he was one of the most beloved students of the masters. Amongst his limited number of compositions, The Enchanted Lake is a typical exemplar of Liadov’s output that is dominated by programmatic miniatures. The La Mer-like sonority of this piece engendered a spatial room for imagination, especially with HKPO’s thoughtful rendition.
In contrast, the First Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky is widely regarded as the most popular work of the genre. It could not escape from the fingertips of every Russian pianist, from those studying at conservatories to masters of each generation. Indeed, it is this familiarity that brings pianists immense challenge – the ability to arouse fresh ideas, making the cliché idiosyncratic. But on Friday and Saturday evenings, Boris Berezovsky proved that he is among the few pianists who can surmount all the hurdles of this masterpiece both musically and technically. On the one hand, he inherited the vehement fervor from his predecessors; on the other hand, the delicacy of articulation was never compromised. The most precious element of Mr. Berezovsky’s playing was spontaneity, an ingredient that could be found in almost all the pianists (or performers of any instrument) of the past generations but, unfortunately, vanished at our time. When Paderewski and Pachmann could be brought from concert halls to our living rooms, performers tend to be very discreet on every technical details of their playing so that the careless mistakes would not last until eternity. This results in a performance style that lacks individual insight and thoughtful intuition; rather, what is emphasized and lauded are the technical assurance and accuracy. Unlike these performers, Mr. Berezovsky’s account was exceptionally spontaneous, almost improvisatory in a sense. The exquisite waltz episode of the second movement and the light-hearted articulation of the third were among many telling examples of his characteristic rendition. For ears attuned to some hot-blooded and impetuous readings of this work, Mr. Berezovsky’s interpretation sounded a little too dainty. But his musicality and the courage to deliver them spontaneously is something of no rivalry.
More stunningly, Mr. Berezovsky is a pianist with immaculate technique. Arm-blurring octaves with utmost precision, scurrying runs with extreme dexterity, and heavily orchestral sonority when necessary all made the audience move to the edges of their seats. This was perhaps why he chose to render the third movement of the Concerto again as an encore upon the enthusiastic applause from the nearly full-house audience. My one minor reservation to this otherwise consummate account is the collaboration between the soloist and the orchestra, in which Mr. Berezovsky’s fervent ebb and flow was sometimes hindered by the orchestra’s sluggish and steady pace. Notwithstanding, conductor Perry So is still a youthful musician who has to be more finely polished.
More confidence Mr. So showed in Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony of the second half. As a winner of the renowned Prokofiev Conducting Competition, Mr. So should not be unfamiliar with this work. He carefully observed every vestige of the score of the lengthy artwork and executed with attention to every detail. Exuberance could be the best word to describe his reading. It would be welcomed if more profundity and sorrow could be brought to the third movement which was slightly understated. In a nutshell, the effort and potential he conspicuously demonstrated were doubtless.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui