Exceptional recital from Alexander Gavrylyuk gets tumultuous applause at Waikanae

Alexander Gavrylyuk – piano

Waikanae Music Society

Mozart: Rondo in D, K485
Brahms: Rhapsody in G minor, Op 79 No. 2
               Intermezzo in B flat minor, Op 117 No. 2
               Intermezzo in C sharp minor, Op. 117 No. 3
Liszt: Paganini Étude No 6
Saint-Saëns: Danse-Macabre (Liszt / Horowitz)
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition  

Memorial Hall, Waikanae

Sunday 3 November 2019, 2:30 pm

Alexander Gavrylyuk, the internationally celebrated Ukranian/Australian pianist, has become a regular visitor to Waikanae. He played there in 2017 and 2016, so I knew that we would be in for an exceptional concert. Peter Mechen, my colleague at Middle C, had written about the pianist’s ability to enchant his listeners with every note and in doing so, display a Sviatoslav Richter-like capacity to invest each sound with a kind of ‘centre of being’. Reviews of his concerts from all over the world attest to his brilliance. Engaging him for Waikanae after New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Russia, France, the Netherlands and the Wigmore Hall in London is a great coup for the Waikanae Music Society.

The hall was full. The gorgeous Fazioli piano, perhaps the best piano in New Zealand, was on the stage, and the artist, a slight modest young man, appeared from behind the screen, sat down and started to play.

Mozart Rondo in D K485
The notes, flew like butterflies, effortlessly. This was a magician conjuring up music with cascading notes, the music reflecting different shades with each repeat of the theme; an understated humour distinguished the piece. Gavrylyuk played it fast with a light, ethereal air. This is a joyful piece. The main theme was borrowed from Johann Christian Bach and it appears in various transformations, modulating into distant keys and transposed from treble to bass, making this a fairly complex but delightful Rondo.

Brahms Rhapsody and Intermezzi
The Mozart Rondo was followed by a bracket of Brahms works calling for a very different musical vision. Though the Rhapsody was written in 1879, the two Intermezzi are late Brahms, when he came back to writing short works for the piano, creating new genres for these pieces. The Rhapsody in G minor is built around a grand theme, which Gavrylyuk played broadly with a rich, mellow sound. The piece gradually increased in intensity, yet within this intensity he brought out the full flowering of the lyrical passages.

The two Intermezzi were of contrasting character. The music critic, Eduard Hanslick, described them as thoroughly subjective, personal monologues. The B flat minor Intermezzo is gentle, singing, with themes which evolve and transform one into another. The C sharp minor Intermezzo is a profoundly sad work which Brahms described as the lullaby of all his griefs. It is like a song, a prayer.

Gavrylyuk brought out its dark yet resigned depth.

Liszt Paganini Étude No 6
Paganini gave new meaning to the idea of the virtuoso. He produced sounds and effects on the violin that were previously unimaginable. He had the personality of the virtuoso showman. Liszt, with his incredible technique on the grand piano set about cultivating an image of the virtuoso like Paganini’s and wrote these studies on themes by Paganini and as a homage to him, arranging them after Paganini’s death. Of these No. 6, based on Paganini’s 24th Caprice is the best known. It is spectacular and fiendishly difficult, showing off the potential of the instrument and the skills of the artist.

My father, when he was a young man, had heard Horowitz in concert, and for him there was no pianist like him, he was indisputably No. 1. I grew up with a 78 rpm record of Horowitz playing this piece. It is brilliant and hair-raising. Liszt transcribed Saint-Saëns’ orchestral tone-poem for piano and Horowitz added further embellishment and technical difficulties to Liszt’s version. It did not, however, daunt Gavrylyuk. He played effortlessly, showing off what a fine pianist can do. The performance was fun and his mastery of the technical challenges was prodigious.

Pictures at an Exhibition
Mussorgsky’s ten colourful piano pieces were composed in memory of his friend, the painter, Victor Hartmann. Each piece captures in sound one of Hartmann’s 400 paintings. They range from the comic, Gnomus, the nostalgic The Old Castle, the playful Tuilleries, the frentic Ballet of the Unhatched Chickens, the ponderous turning of the heavy wheels in Bydlo, the pompous and satirical Goldberg and Schmuyle, the busy Marketplace at Limoges, the ghostly Catacombs: Roman Sepulchre, the absurd and bizarre Little Hut on Chicken Legs, and finally the majestic Great Gate of Kiev. They are connected with Promenades, each Promenade different, suggesting a spectator walking, in anticipation, from picture to picture. There is mystery, melancholy and humour in the work and a measure of the Russian spirit of national identity reflected in the Great Gate of Kiev with its Russian Orthodox chants. A spectacular and memorable performance.

This was an amazing concert and the tumultuous applause of the large audience reflected their enjoyment and appreciation; it was a privilege to hear one of the great pianists of the younger generation. His playing was stunning, and the memory of it will be cherished by all who heard it. The nagging question, however, is why we had to travel to Waikanae, a small seaside town, to hear one of the finest pianists to visit New Zealand. Alexander Gavrylyuk plays in some of the greatest concert halls of the world, but those responsible for providing the best in music for the New Zealand public can’t organize a concert for him in the Michael Fowler Centre: neither a solo recital nor a concerto appearance in Wellington with the NZSO. Before the New Zealand Broadcasting Service and the then National Orchestra were restructured such a concert would have been held in the Town Hall and would have been broadcast for a wide audience to enjoy. Much has been lost in the restructuring.

Post scriptum
It is unusual for a reviewer to comment on his own review, but I regret that although I consider that I wrote a fair and accurate review of Alexander Gavrylyuk’s concert I failed to capture its essence.
It was not a concert like any other. It was an experience that would stay with those who were there. The music seemed to just sprout from the artist, like someone musical utterance in a trance. Perhaps it was an idiosyncratic performance. Some of the pieces might have seemed a little faster or slower than usually played, but they all seemed to be the expression of the inner of the soul of the artist. There was a spontaneity and fluidity about Gavrylyuk’s playing that is impossible to capture in words. He just created music there in front of us, totally absorbed in the music. The music spoke directly to the listeners’ inner beings. It was magic.
Steven Sedley 

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