Year-long anniversary celebrations can sometimes make for a protracted, overwhelming party. In 2010, the candles are doubly lit for both Robert Schumann and Fryderyk Chopin. Eager to cash in on apparently boundless publicity, concert organizations around the globe have unleashed a tsunami of greatest hits and seldom-heard gems from the birthday boys that fill countless seats but also raise expectations that the musical result will be worth all of the fanfare.
At Chamberfest, the party began at 11:00 a.m. where one of the works in Adam Gyorgy’s “Keyboard Contemplations” was the Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23 (cross-reference below). Eight hours later Alexander Tselyakov launched into a full evening of the Polish-born poetic master in a daunting program that centred on both sets of Études. The two-dozen studies did their customary double duty: revealing the musical/technical health of the performer and challenging the audience to make emotional sense of marvellously complex, deeply personal writing.
While there were many moments of pleasure (most notably “Winter Wind,” Op. 25, No. 11) both sets suffered from a musically debilitating obsession with the “busiest” notes, leaving the carefully constructed inner voices and vital harmonic weight (frequently, not always in the left hand’s domain) largely in the distant background instead of smouldering just below the surface of these incredible miniatures that laugh at the literal translation of their name.
The opening Nocturne began in a curiously cloudy atmosphere, which soon felt more laboured than forward; the second section was a marvel of triumphant revelry. The B-flat Minor Scherzo, at times equally as brittle is Idil Biret’s (see below), needed much more understatement to balance the unleashed power and deft surety in the climactic moments.
Positioned between the sets of Études, the Barcarolle in F-sharp Minor was a welcome sea of reflective calm before the resumption of Chopin’s keyboard equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Certainly aware of what still lay before him, Tselyakov was unable to completely relax with this lilting music, forcing rather than allowing the phrases to unfold.
A valiant attempt to be sure, but perhaps a longer lead time, less stridently voiced instrument (notably the top which encouraged edge rather than ring) and more time between performances (less than 24-hours later, the indefatigable performer will be in the thick of a program featuring both 2010 celebration composers) would have permitted a more satisfying result. JWR
Idil Biret, piano
Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31
NAXOS 8.554538, 1990
Biret uses all of her considerable power to create a lean, dramatic opening that immediately commands attention. At times, the upper register is a touch on the brittle side and there are a few moments in the return where the music is dangerously close to brutal cries rather than magnificent statements. The Trio is a marvellous contrast. Here, warmth and calm beautifully inform the contrasting lines before the bottom-heavy transition deftly brings round 2 into the ring. JWR