Gripping display of pianism

Pianist Konstantin Scherbakov displayed crisp articulation and immaculate fingerwork.
Pianist Konstantin Scherbakov displayed crisp articulation and immaculate fingerwork.PHOTO: ST FILE

REVIEW / CONCERT

KONSTANTIN SCHERBAKOV PIANO RECITAL

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory

Concert Hall

Wednesday

The last time Siberia-born and Switzerland-based pianist Konstantin Scherbakov gave a recital in Singapore, he performed Franz Liszt's transcription of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at the close of the 2008 Singapore International Piano Festival.

His welcome return for an all- Beethoven recital showed no diminution of his impressive physical abilities, revealing instead a sharpening of his interpretative faculties.

The Six Bagatelles Op. 126 are shavings from a master's work- table and, in these miniatures, he amply displayed their variegated colours and contrasts.

Alternating between wistful and vigorous, each piece was made to sound vital, distilling the same visionary thoughts to be found in the late sonatas and string quartets.

A much earlier work is Bee- thoven's Eroica Variations Op. 35, so named because it uses as its theme the same dance from the ballet The Creatures Of Prometheus, which also appears in his Eroica Symphony. These variations border on over-elaboration while frequently skirting with the vulgar, but only a genius knows how to craft a relative masterpiece from the trite and banal.

It was Scherbakov's keen sense of proportion and acute understanding of its irony that made this sometimes unwieldy work come across as coherent and even humourous.

His crisp articulation and immaculate fingerwork made light of its digital difficulties and there was nary a dull moment. Its concluding E Flat Major chord also formed the resonant opening chords of the second half's tour de force, which was the Third Symphony, better known as the Eroica Symphony.

In Liszt's ridiculously demanding and almost unplayable transcription, Scherbakov's transcendental technique was to find a formidable equal.

His secret was to regard this as a piano work in its own right and not attempt to simulate the orchestra's sound and textures.

There was no compulsion to go headlong for volume, but instead, to ride on its rhythmic pulse and drive. When the development and inevitable climaxes came, they did so with a palpably frightening intensity.

The second movement's Funeral March was no less gripping, its sombre subject finding a rare nobility in its procession from human tragedy to luminous beauty.

The dynamics then shifted dramatically to the Scherzo's mercurial scintillations, where Scherbakov's lightness of touch and ultimate control of its projectile thrusts held sway.

The well-planned programme came full circle with the finale's joyous dance from Prometheus, this time with a separate set of variations and fugal discourse. Again, its wit and humour shone winningly but through a different prism. For its 50-minute duration, Scherbakov did not make one long for the orchestra.

There have been excellent recordings of this symphony by Cyprien Katsaris, Idil Biret and Scherbakov himself, but nothing quite tops this live perfomance, which was accorded a chorus of bravos. There was no encore, but after this superhuman display of pianism, none was needed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Gripping display of pianism'. Print Edition | Subscribe