How did Behzod Abduraimov get to be twenty-eight already? Two seconds ago, it seems, he was a teen. But he is indeed twenty-eight, and on Friday night he played the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 at Carnegie Hall.
Often, I say something about Aida, Verdi’s opera: it is not a cartoon. It may be subject to stereotype, and it may be hackneyed. But it is not a cartoon. On the contrary, it is a masterpiece, and in the right hands, this is clear.
Something of the same can be said of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.
I was once talking with Lorin Maazel, the late conductor, about familiar pieces of music—terribly familiar pieces of music. “If you become jaded because of overexposure,” he said, “the problem is yours, not the composer’s.”
Young Abduraimov is a pianist from Tashkent (Uzbekistan). On Friday night at Carnegie Hall, he was playing with the Munich Philharmonic, conducted by its music director, Valery Gergiev, the famed Russian (whose main orchestra is in Saint Petersburg).
Abduraimov played the opening chords deep into the keys. They were rich and unbanged. They were also unrushed. Abduraimov and Gergiev were judicious, and musical, in this opening. They would be that way throughout.
In the first movement, the pianist occasionally wanted to go a little faster than the conductor. But things never got out of control. Pianist and conductor brought out the folk elements of the music—more than most performers do. Abduraimov showed some pearly, beguiling passagework. He also showed some Horowitzian octaves. Dizzying.
Altogether, this first movement was accurate, musical, and exciting—incredibly exciting.
Oddly, there was no applause after the movement. And applause is practically begged for here. I think Tchaikovsky, and other men and women of the nineteenth century, would have said, “What’s the matter, you didn’t like it?”
Audiences often applaud after movements when they really have no business doing so. And yet, they can withhold, too, mystifyingly.
At the beginning of the second movement, the pizzicatos were together, basically. How did Gergiev do this? Other pizzicatos during the concert were together—or together enough—too. If Gergiev keeps this up, he will be kicked out of the Conductors’ Guild.
He shaped the opening of the second movement dearly. Other parts of the movement had the right shape as well. And Abduraimov was exemplary.
For my taste, the final movement—Allegro con fuoco—was a little fast. I like it a little more pronounced. A little more marcato, if you will. But the young man was brilliant, and he imparted a spirit of spontaneity. Nothing was by rote. This was a first-rate, memorable Tchaik One.
Let me stress how accurate it was (not that this is the most important thing). It was virtually note-perfect, studio-perfect. You could not play a Mozart slow movement more cleanly. I thought of another Tchaikovsky performance, of the other Tchaikovsky piano concerto: No. 2. When Mikhail Pletnev played it in Carnegie Hall almost twenty years ago, it was note-perfect (in addition to boffo).
With Gergiev standing at the side of the stage, listening to him, Abduraimov played an encore—some more Tchaikovsky. This was a song—“Lullaby”—transcribed by Rachmaninoff. Abduraimov played it beautifully, giving a masterclass in legato and cantabile.
After intermission came a symphony—a Bruckner symphony, No. 7. It started from nowhere. I was scarcely aware of a beginning. This is as it should be.
When discussing Bruckner—the conducting of these symphonies—I often borrow a phrase from Obama foreign policy: “strategic patience.” A conductor must have strategic patience. These symphonies are long journeys. You don’t want to spend too much too soon. You have to be aware of the length of the journey—of the general architecture.
The Munich Philharmonic made a good, Brucknerian sound. (Carnegie Hall possibly helped.) Every soloist—every woodwind principal, every brass principal—was satisfactory. It seemed to me that the orchestra was delivering what the conductor wanted.
Let me pause to note the concertmaster—a very fine player, but that’s not what I want to pause for: the man has some of the best hair in music. It is a glorious white crown, or curly helmet. The concertmaster has one of the best names in music, too. He is Lorenz Nasturica-Herschcowici. Beat that, as Bill Buckley would say.
The slow movement of the Bruckner Seventh was my gateway into Bruckner—all of Bruckner—long ago. I imagine this is true of many others as well. You have heard it more transfixing than it was on Friday night. But it was plenty good.
About the Scherzo, I will make just one comment. The whole movement was commendably stirring and apt, but here is my specific comment: The final measures were utterly in time. Perfectly brought off.
And the Finale? I wrote in my notes, “So intelligent. Maximum inspiration? Idk [I don’t know]. But so intelligent.”
Yes. This was solid, informed, gratifying Bruckner.
Earlier, I was talking about applause, or the lack of it. Here is another note on applause: After the Bruckner, it was moderate—disappointingly so. But it kept going. The applause continued, in its moderate way (which made up for its moderation). The American pattern is to applaud enthusiastically and then head for the exits. This was different, and interesting to me, for that reason.
The Munich Phil., under Gergiev, played another concert in Carnegie Hall on Saturday night. I will address that event in my upcoming chronicle for the magazine (print edition). A sneak preview? The Shostakovich Fifth was darn good. You would expect that from Gergiev, and pay for it—but it’s nice when it comes true regardless.