Canberra International Music Festival. Two Concerts: Slava's Piano - Concert 12, Fitters' Workshop, Tuesday March 7, 6.30pm and The Brodsky Quartet - Concert 15, Fitters' Workshop, Thursday March 9, 7.30pm.
I can only describe the energy behind the playing of Vyacheslav Gryaznov as volcanic. The urge to erupt in an explosion of fortissimos and technical pyrotechnics was clearly present throughout the varied program. Gryaznov's opening versions of movements VIII, IX and XI from Bach's Art of Fugue began with soft, warm equanimity, gradually building in crescendo. Each voice sang out confidently, even when in No. IX the tempo approached the speed of light.
Next in the performance was Bach's English Suite No. 2 in A minor, with well-considered contrasts between the movements. I very much enjoyed the contrast between the rapid light touch employed in Bourée I and the denser texture of Bourée II, leading into the lyrical cascading passages in the final Gigue.
The second half of the concert featured Gryaznov's arrangements of works by favourite Russian composers, providing ample scope for his improvisational skills. His style of playing reminded me of Canberra pianist Larry Sitsky's performances, in that the power for the extraordinary dynamic range is centred in the lower back for both pianists, providing an apparently inexhaustible source of energy and striking force. I enjoyed the Three Romances by Rachmaninoff - Op 26 No.12, Op 21 No.7 and Op 34 No.14 - and the Polka Italienne the most in the program for the opportunity they provided Gryaznov to demonstrate a nuanced lyricism.
It would be hard to find a more committed ensemble than the Brodsky Quartet - committed to the essential nature of the quartet defined as the unity of four different voices. Each member brings exceptional empathy and strategic wisdom to their playing. Their interpretation of Contrapuncti I and VI was a celebration of their concord, followed by Mozartian drama in the Adagio and Fugue in C minor KV546. Mendelssohn's Fugue in E-flat Major from Four Pieces, Op 81 No.4, gave us mellifluous baton changes between quartet voices and sinuous duets between the parts. Beethoven's Fugue in B flat Major is an odd work, very experimental but not satisfying, and the Brodsky Quartet, while faithfully delivering the notes, could not transform this work to have a new magic.
The crowning glory of the evening was Bartok's String Quartet No.1 in A minor. Such intelligent, exciting compositional skill is heard in this work! People often talk of losing oneself in music, but with Bartok the restless energy, the questing exploration of themes, the interweaving ideas and the startling harmonisations and dissonances wake us up to find ourselves. This was certainly the case in the Brodsky's interpretation of Bartok as the four musicians moved and breathed as one remarkable sonic organism. I'll remember their rendering of the quartet for the breathtaking feather-light quality of the pianissimos, the razor-sharp interplay between parts and the exhilarating tension built up with the strident repeated chords in the aptly named Allegro vivace - I certainly left the hall feeling vitally alive!