21st Singapore International Piano Festival
SOTA Concert Hall
27 June 2014
Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit stands undisputed as one of the most technically demanding pieces in the standard repertoire for pianists, and it has always been a hot favourite for young, competition-winning pianists to include in their recital repertoire. Around this time last year I watched second-prize winner of the 2012 Leeds International Piano Competition Louis Schwizgebel conclude his recital with it, and last evening, it brought 24-year old Behzod Abduraimov’s recital to a dazzling close. Having been catapulted into fame by his victory in the 2009 London International Piano Competition when he was only 18, Abduraimov has been establishing himself on an international level, giving performances worldwide and recording exclusively with Decca. Although he convincingly portrayed the seductive, watery world of Ondine and the hauntingly trance-like swaying of the body at the gallows at sunset in Le Gibet, Scarbo from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit was arguably the show stopper of the evening. The frenzied hand-crossing, repeated motifs and flashes of notes depicting a manic goblin disappearing and reappearing unpredictably were confidently tackled.
It fit perfectly well in the programme, which had an underlying theme of death and the imagination of after-death experiences. The opening two works centred on the funeral march: Beethoven’s Twelfth Sonata in Ab major, Op. 26 whose third movement is a funeral march ‘on the death of a hero’, and Chopin’s Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49, which begins with a. funeral march. When one thinks of the term “funeral march”, what comes to mind is usually a weighty, sombre, and slow. Abduraimov was neither sombre nor slow, thundering through both works. Perhaps he could be forgiven for the Chopin as it is after all, a fantasy, but apart from the fast and loud, there was little much else to offer. The first movement of Beethoven was played with much restraint, but Abduraimov whirled through the second and fourth movements. His running notes often sounded muddy and muffled, perhaps due to the echoey acoustics of the hall coupled with misjudgements and over pedalling. To end off the first half, he showed his athletic prowess in the Saint-Saëns/Liszt/Horowitz Dans Macabre, a one-man orchestra conjuring up the diabolical scenes of skeletons dancing to the devil’s fiddle-playing.
Aptly placed to open the second half was Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, placed in between the darker works as if a confession or form of atonement. Here, Abduraimov played with more sensitivity to the harmonic nuances and textures, but lacked the maturity that would turn his playing into a profoundly moving work. With his imagination, talent, and technical facility, one can definitely expect greater things from him in the years to come.