Halida Dinova – quintessentially romantic pianism

Classical Expressions Upper Hutt presents:
Halida Dinova (piano)
A recital of words by Rachmaninov, Chopin, Beethoven, Scriabin and Liszt

RACHMANINOV – Morceaux de Fantasie Op.3 Nos.1,2,4
CHOPIN – Fantasie in F Minor Op.49
BEETHOVEN – Piano Sonata No.14 in C-sharp Minor Op.27 No.2 “Moonlight”
SCRIABIN – Etude Op.8 No.12 / Nocturne for the Left Hand Op.9 No.2
LISZT – Piano Sonata in B Minor

Halida Dinova (piano)

Genesis Energy Theatre, Upper Hutt

Monday 27th April, 2014

I was thrilled to learn that Russian-born Halida Dinova had returned to New Zealand to give more concerts, as I’d been bowled over by her playing on the occasion of her last visit two years ago. On that occasion she played in Lower Hutt at the Little Theatre on a piano that had been pronounced “past its expiry date” and made it sound like one of the world’s most mellifluous instruments, giving us, among other things, particularly memorable readings of Balakirev’s “Islamey” and the complete Chopin Preludes. (For further detailing regarding this previous recital, go to my review at  https://middle-c.org/2012/05/halida-dinova-russian-soul-from-tatarstan/)

One of the things that struck me so forcibly about her playing the previous time round was Dinova’s amazing conveyance of physical engagement with the music, and specifically with the composer’s sound-world in almost every instance – I think I may have felt that one of the Debussy pieces worked less well for me, though there was another from the same set of pieces which the pianist seemed completely to “own”. I remember how Dinova’s playing at the time gave me an insight into British pianist Peter Donohoe’s remark made when I interviewed him some years ago, regarding Debussy’s music, to the effect that he adored “every note”.

Here at Upper Hutt’s Classical Expressions, though having the use of a far superior instrument, Dinova’s playing didn’t grip my imagination quite so insistently as before – though there were still whole sequences of the magnificence that I remembered. The repertoire may have had a part to play, here, as I sensed a tad less involvement on the pianist’s part with parts of the Beethoven Sonata compared with the remainder of the programme; and Dinova herself told me afterwards that she was still “exploring” the Liszt Sonata, having begun working on it less than a year ago.

I did think that, for all its excellences as a concert-hall, the Upper Hutt venue “distanced” us from Dinova’s playing as the Lower Hutt Little Theatre didn’t do at all – my chief irritation was the canned piano music which was heard in the auditorium up to a few minutes before Dinova herself came on to play. Surely one goes to a “live” music event to hear only “live music”? – and ought there not to be at least SOME aural “space” before a concert by way of preparation for the music about to be played? I would want, at best, no pre-recorded music at all before a concert, and at the very least a fifteen-minute period before the beginning where one hears nothing else clamouring for attention. If this is an overseas trend being brought here, then in my opinion, it  ought to be strangled and quietly disposed of. For me it was simply “musak” and it had the effect of reducing the impact of the concert’s actual music and the pianist’s playing of it.

Fortunately, such was the “pull” of Dinova’s presence and focus upon the music that she was able to quickly dispel all such annoyances and take us, in this case, into the nineteenth-century world of the young Rachmaninov, with three of his Op.3 Morceau de Fantasie.  Beginning with the Elegie, her very first notes explored a depth of sound, a resonance which, underpinned by a ‘tolling bell” effect in the left hand, conjured up a kind of feeling for the effect that those particular sonorities evidently had on the impressionable composer. The more agitated central Lisztian sequences excitingly took over the entire keyboard, before Dinova’s exquisite sense of atmosphere and innate timing gradually allowed the silences to “surge softly backwards”, placing the piece’s pair of final notes with bitter-sweet resignation.

Then came THE Prelude, richly-wrought, varied in utterance (how can one play those three portentous notes? – let me count the ways….) and redolent with expectation, left hand anticipating the right at every possible opportunity (something else I noticed during her previous recital at Lower Hutt), a journey which seemed to unfold rather than fall into preconceived places – amazing, tumultuous central agitations, and a properly “awed” concluding series of chords, each a world of unpredictable sensibility. After this, what better way to philosophise than to introduce the figure of Polichinelle to the discourse? – based on the well-known Commedia dell’arte character (Pulcinella, in Italian), this knock-about comedian restored our stricken sensibilities with his antics, though taking time out to savour a few moments of romantic ardour in the piece’s middle section. Dinova’s enjoyment of the character was obvious, as much through her quicksilver fingerwork as from her wry smile at the throwaway ending.

Chopin’s F Minor Fantasie brought out the “no holds barred” aspects of Dinova’s pianism to thrilling effect – a deep, rich sonority at the beginning, posing a question to which came the lyrical reply, the drama and ceremony of interchange, the spin of the storyteller, the “strut” of the processional. Out of this grew those wonderful improvisatory flourishes building up the tensions towards action, everything played with wonderful fluidity, the triplets dancing along excitedly, turning in places to little “marches”, and in other places to more declamatory utterances. The piece’s “still heart” is the prayerful central interlude which Dinova more breathed than played, voiced so inwardly and beautifully. Afterwards, the reprise of the first section was fiercely tackled, Dinova’s playing plunging the music headlong into renewed conflict, with  thrills and spills adding to the excitement.  And just as compelling was the tenderness of the poetic reminiscence at the piece’s end, that final upward gossamer run and concluding chords the stuff of storytelling.

After this I thought the first two movement of the well-known Moonlight Sonata less remarkable – all darkly and solemnly played (here, with the right hand often anticipating the left!), but still, with the pianist seeming to be an observer rather than a participant in the drama. Dinova played the second movement in a completely unexaggerated way, bringing out some beautiful dynamic variation, and in places subtly emphasizing the left hand. But the finale was something else – incredible “attack”, a strong left hand driving the trajectories and the right hand creating great roulades of sound. Here nature took a hand in the proceedings, with torrential rain drumming an accompaniment on the concert hall roof throughout the last few tumultuous measures!

Two contrasting pieces by Scriabin followed the interval, the first a favourite of the great Vladimir Horowitz, the Etude Op.8 No.12, entitled Patetico (Pathetique).  Dinova took to the music in the manner born, allowing the piece’s build-in momentum to grow and the agitations to rise like a wind from the steppes, though allowing a lovely lyricism in the Rachmaninov-like gentler middle sequences, But with the return of the opening idea, Dinova opened her the floodgates, the left hand leaping dangerously across the keys, the repeated notes growing increasingly frenzied, and the deep bells more and more clangorous, until the whole suddenly whirled upwards to a heaven-storming climax – what a great virtuoso display! After this, the gentle lyricism of the Left-Hand Nocturne from a set of two pieces Op.9 was balm to the senses, the evening’s most poetic and melting playing,the pianist’s left hand brilliantly encompassing both virtuoso and lyrical elements in a breath-taking display.

I was fortunate enough to hear Dinova play some of the items on the evening’s program twice, among them Liszt’s B Minor Piano Sonata, the second time at a house concert on an upright piano, a couple of days afterwards! Inevitably, my reactions to her playing of the pieces have criss-crossed to some extent between the occasions – but the cumulative effect is the thing, and especially with a work as all-encompassing as the Liszt. Before proceeding, I must say that I was sorry that the concert’s programme-note-writer, one whose work I normally greatly admire, made a passing reference via the work to Liszt’s “deplorable” morals, thereby reinforcing the surely-by-now-discredited legend that the composer bedded almost every female who threw herself at him – anyone who’s read Alan Walker’s up-to-date and incredibly detailed biography of Liszt will be appalled at the extent (outlined by Walker) of the “hatchet-job” done on the composer’s reputation and integrity in the past by people such as Ernest Newman, with no real evidence to back up claims of unbridled licentious behaviour other than prejudicial heresay – as Walker remarks, a case of fame and success giving rise to intense jealousy, and resulting mischief on the part of others.

Let the music speak for the man on this occasion – and one remembers Wagner (no great supporter of other people’s creative efforts) equating the man with his music, writing to Liszt after hearing the sonata for the first time with the words, “the sonata is beautiful beyond compare, great, sweet, deep and noble, sublime as you are yourself…..” Dinova’s playing of the work, while not completely “under the fingers” (on each occasion she had to break off in the midst of a piece of tumultuous passagework – in a different place each time, incidentally – and re-align her trajectories) caught the piece’s multi-faceted character – a brilliantly-conceived structure, a vivid and theatrical recreation of the “Faust” legend, a deeply-moving expression of conflicting personal emotions, a pianistic tour-de-force. Structurally, she gave the piece all the time it needed to speak, and all the urgency its figurations required to create the work’s overall shape. And her characterization of the characters and episodes pertaining to the “Faust” legend were vividly-drawn and theatrically-contrasted.

Dinova’s playing seemed to me to demonstrate a kind of innate sense of what each section of the music required as the music advanced – a powerful bringing-together of spontaneity and inevitability. She seemed incapable of playing a routine or a mechanical phrase, as every note had its own kind of quality, its own particular strength of purpose and relationship with the others. One didn’t know what she was going to do next with the music, how she was going to “voice” a particular passage, or distribute the emphasis between the hands. Her conjuring up of the music’s central nocturnal scene (Faust in the garden with Marguerite?) was as entrancing as the succeeding fugue was tense and electric – despite a dropped note or two the cumulative excitement was palpable, and the climax of the sequence sent glinting figurations skyrocketing upwards between fusillades of repeated notes. In the house concert the fugue momentarily came adrift, whereas here it was during the amazingly orchestral writing leading to the big heroic theme’s final statement when things were momentarily derailed. Neither hiatus was a fatal error – the music was picked up and driven onwards as excitingly as before.

Perhaps when Halida Dinova comes back to this country once again she will bring the work with her as a fully-fledged falcon, soaring aloft while taking in the whole of the terrain at a single glance (as somebody said once of another great Russian pianist, Sviatoslav Richter). She did enough here to reaffirm her status as a romantic pianist of outstanding quality. I managed to get a CD she’d made for the Doremi label of Scriabin’s music, which I can’t wait to listen to and which I’ll look forward also to reviewing. Meanwhile I shall cherish the memory of playing whose immediacy and excitement continue to give pleasure long after the recital’s last notes have been sounded.

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