Concert Review: Behzod Abduraimov's technically efficient but musically raw performance

Uzbekistan-born pianist Behzod Abduraimov. -- PHOTO: BEN EALOVEGA AND DECCA 
Uzbekistan-born pianist Behzod Abduraimov. -- PHOTO: BEN EALOVEGA AND DECCA 

With international competition winners nowadays mostly being barely out of their teens, it is inevitable that we are now seeing musicians who enter the world concert stage at a much younger age than before.

The pitfalls of this phenomenon is that upon winning a contest based on a programme they had worked on intensively and extensively, they then face the task of having to churn out repertoire in a short period of time.

So the performances, while brilliantly executed, are lacking in maturity and innovation.

Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov's sensational triumph at the 2009 London International Piano Competition won him fans around the world, and has had considerable success as an exclusive Decca artist.

His programme last Friday the School Of The Arts' concert hall, thoughtfully centered on the spirituality of life, death, and afterlife. However, it was one which showed him as a performer with a prodigiously efficient technique but who is musically raw.

Opening the recital with two works based on the funeral march motif, Beethoven's Piano Sonata In A-flat Major Op. 26 and Chopin's Fantasie In F Minor Op. 49, his single-mindedness showed in the brisk tempi he adopted for both works.

While a case could be made for barnstorming through the Chopin at this speed due to its "fantasy" nature, it caused the Beethoven sonata to struggle for breath and moments of subliminal harmonic shifts were lost. His overuse of pedaling resulted in muddied articulation, especially in Beethoven's trademark use of subito piano. Being a funeral march, a larger than life instillation of tragic drama was dreadfully needed.

His penchant for playing ahead of the beat often saw phrased being abruptly interrupted, and this was no more evident in the Chopin Fantasie. A lack of textural colouring lead to a rather homogenous reading of the work, where the heroic and deeply poetic moments sounded much the same.

Timing and spacing yelled out for attention, for even in the most extreme of speeds, the music must be allowed to build an innate and flexible pulse. The few moments of pure awe in both works were however ruined by the incessant clicking from a photographer situated in the circle seats, who bore the brunt of the audience's ire and did not return after the intermission.

Abduraimov's electrifying technical abilities were at the forefront of Liszt's (and later edited by Horowitz) arrangement of Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre.

Here, he produced an enormous sonority from the piano to depict grotesqueness of the dance of the dead, but yet again moments of hurried playing saw notes being lost in the reverberant hall. The torrents of octaves in both hands were sensationally delivered but it was rather strange that he seemed more restrained when a no-holds-barred approach was more appropriate here.

Credit is due for his ingenious pairing of the work with Liszt's Bénédiction De Dieu Dans La solitude, from his set of Religious and Poetic Harmonies. One of the Hungarian composer's most divine works, it calls for the artist to create and almost other-worldly atmosphere with glittering arpeggios and rolls. Abduraimov's velvet touch effected well in this case, but the chorale-like middle theme sounded too much of reality.

The spiritual riposte did not last, as the pianist offered a most riveting performance of Ravel's Gaspard De La Nuit, a highly inventive triptych of horror and elegance. In Ondine (Water Sprite), the shimmering ripples of water were imaginatively depicted, while the tolling bells of Le Gibet conjured imagery of a hanging corpse, and his sizzling take on Scarbo, a frenzied goblin, was both beautiful in its mysterious colour and horrific in its startling virtuosity.

Abduraimov has all the obvious gifts for a successful career. Although still wet behind the ears, with the maturity that comes with age, he should definitely be a mainstay on the concert circuit.