St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts
Nick Kovacev – piano
Haydn: Sonata in B minor, Hob XVI/32
Bach: The Toccata from Partita No 6 in E minor, BWV 830
Schubert: Impromptu in B flat, D 935, no 3
Ginastera: Danzas Argentinas (1937)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 13 April, 12:15 pm
The New Zealand School of Music is a major supplier of talent to the year-long series of lunchtime concerts at St Andrew’s on The Terrace. Most of those who play are at somewhat advanced degree levels, but this time it’s pianist Nick Kovacev who is in his first year at the school. I had not read the brief note about him in the programme at the start of the recital and had imagined that he was probably about a third year student, such was the polish and confidence of his playing. Even though there were occasional slips, which of course reassures us that we are listening to a live performer and not a highly enhanced recording playing behind an animated papier-mâché model of a pianist seated at the piano.
I’m sure others were misled too as he proceeded to dazzle the audience with one of Haydn’s more spectacular sonatas, Hoboken’s No 32 in B minor, from memory, as was the entire recital. It was not far removed from the more breathtaking of Scarlatti’s sonatas: staccato, animated, fluent, his playing displayed awareness of dynamic variety, produced through a well-applied palette of articulations. His posture suggested maturity with a flair for the pregnant pause and taste sufficiently cultivated to enrich the shapes of tunes which were never merely repetitious.
The Toccata from Bach’s 6th harpsichord partita provided Kovacev with a different idiom to explore. The improvisatory start and finish lent a sense of spontaneity, as if he was making it up as he went along; it compared strikingly with the sobering effect of a fugue which arrives a rather a surprise. His playing showed purpose and mastery, as he paid careful attention to the evolution of the fugue. The programme notes used the words ‘earnest simplicity’ to describe the next piece, by Schubert and it struck me that it applied to the Bach too.
Schubert’s big Impromptu in B flat (among the two longest of the eight) drew attention to yet another facet of Kovacev’s talent. His ability to sustain the musical line in a major piece of music was very evident; it is a set of variations on one of the rich, poignant melodies in his incidental music for the play Rosamund, and its structure can be compared with Beethoven’s sets of piano variations. The unexpected changes of mood though modulations sounded both inevitable and surprising and the performance proved a rewarding experience. Kovacev dealt skillfully with minor, understandable memory lapses.
If these pieces from memory were not impressive enough, Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas was a sort of summary of his imposing technical and interpretive accomplishments at present. It begins with a dance by an old herdsman: bi-tonal, dissonant, heavy-footed and virtuosic, then lyrical, feminine and elusive in the second, and finally, to portray the arrogant gaucho: hectic, forceful and deliberately shapeless. It was a rather spectacular demonstration of a young pianist’s achievement and his ambitions for the future.
One will keep an eye on his progress.