Thursday, September 20, 2007

The expressive page turner

Had of course checked out the concerts at the Filarmonia before I ever left Tbilisi for Kiev. And brilliant the programming was, too. Last night was the opening concert of the season, in a mini-festival called 'Volodymyr Krainev and Friends' (or something like that).

Krainev is a highly respected piano professor who teaches at Hanover in Germany. If you want to be a high class pianist, that is where you should study - he's not the only highly respected professor teaching there. He also sits on lots of piano competition juries, and his pupils tend to do well in competitions. Not that there will be a connection, of course. At the last competition I saw him, a few years ago in Armenia, with huge prize money, it was the pupil of the jury chair (not Krainev) who won....

It was an all Beethoven evening; starting with the violin concerto, then piano concerto No 4, and finally the Choral Fantasy. Oh wow! As we were waiting for the concert to start I was chatting to my companion about the Schnittke cadenza for the concerto, and while I had heard of it, I had never heard it (Gidon Kremer has recorded it). Was I gobsmacked when Oleg Krysa, the violin soloist, stepped on the stage and started explaining about the Schnittke cadenza and how it picks up themes and motifs not only from Beethoven (not only this concerto), but also Brahms and Shostakovich. Wow!

It was great! While in the rest of the Beethoven there was the odd little rough intonation, and the sound of the violin was sometimes a little thin, these cadenzas, one for each movement, were amazing. Quite Bachian in their own little way, reminding me of a slow movement in one of the sonatas or partitas where you have a melody playing at the same time as a rhythmic beat on another string. This beat could come from bowing, plucking, or in the case of the cadenzas, from the timps - Schnittke did not mind including other instruments. The themes were beautifully picked out, and the five-beat opening motif of the timps appeared in both the first and last-movement cadenzas. In the last movement cadenzas the first violins joined in to give a background sound of roaring bees. It's really extremely skilful what Schnittke did in his post-baroque polistylistic approach. I need to track down that recording!

This was followed by Hisako Kawamura of Japan playing Beethoven's 4th piano concerto - beautifully. She seems to be quite a personality, coming on the stage with a very confident and cheeky grin - and then starting the concerto with the lightest touch. She played it beautifully and expressively, emoting (but not excessively) from the top of her hair to her tiny little toe. The collaboration between her and the very elegantly conducting Volodymir Syrenko was a joy to behold. Her way of carrying a little hanky on the stage, and confident use of the word 'spaceba' (thank you) makes me think she studied in Russia at one stage.

Finally, at last, it was time for the Choral Fantasy. A piece I love, though someone in the Vilnius Filharmonija turn up his nose suggesting it's just a baby version of the 9th. No matter; a few years ago I heard it in Vilnius played by a wonderful Russian/American pianist whose name will soon return to me, I am sure.

Here it was Mr Krainev himself who was playing, and Hisako Kawamura was turning his pages. This was when I began to realise that this concerto series might have been arranged to give his pupils concert exposure (though those who study with him will have played many concerts already). Mr Krainev is a little round kind of guy, but that does not stop him making contact with the piano. I thought that the chap in Vilnius had put more joy into his, as if he was making it up as he went along, having a good old 'craic' with the orchestra and huge amounts of fun...This was more sticking to the letter of the notes, though he did not look at them that much. While Mr Krainev had a slight civil servant approach, Ms Kawamura did the emoting for him from behind, occasionally finding it hard to keep her hands still. The choir soloists were a little too heavy on the vibrato (especially the women) but overall it was a great performance and they got a well-deserved standing ovation.

It was really a great way to end my last working day in Kiev on this child welfare project which is about to end. The 'Ode to Joy', given the project success, would have been even more suitable, though!

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