Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Svetlana Berezhnaya Plays Her Definitive Arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition

Many years ago the prog-rock band Emerson, Lake and Palmer recorded a buffoonish, bombastic version of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. As a result, it’s likely that much of an entire generation was turned off from the piece, from discovering the suite’s subtleties and intricacies. What little bombast and buffoonery there is in the original is confined to moments where it’s illustrating a character or a moment. Still, the idea of an organ version of this playfully creepy old standard is tempting. Last night at St. Thomas Church in midtown, Russian organist Svetlana Berezhnaya played her own organ arrangement of the suite, a richly dynamic, suspensefully illustrative, extraordinarily intuitive yet sometimes counterintuitive version that more than did justice to all the phantasmagorical, twisted characters who populate it. And while she didn’t softpedal it, there also wasn’t a single point at which she literally pulled out all the stops: she only brought the firepower when she absolutely needed it. The result was one of the best concerts of the year, in any genre.

Taking advantage of the range of available sonics, Berezhnaya gave the Gnome legs and elevated it to the level of grand guignol. Likewise, Baba Yaga’s Hut came to life in a cruelly caricaturesque dance, and the Cattle in her version were transformed into ominously growling, mad cows. But the Haunted Castle was understated, awash in airy drafts, the Ballet of Unhatched Chicks bouncing with surreal, staccato counterpoint quietly in the uppermost registers, and in the concert’s most striking moments, the Catacombs gave Berezhnaya a chance to evoke the spirits there with a genuinely haunting exploration of the lowest bass pedals. Surprisingly, the loudest passages were the raucously bustling Market scene; when she got to the Great Gate of Kiev, it was more of a casually celebratory conclusion than a fire-and-brimstone coda. There’s no telling if and when she’ll be back, but if you get a chance to see Berezhnaya play this, don’t miss it.

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March 28, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Llyr Williams plays Schubert, Debussy and Moussorgsky at Weill Recital Hall, NYC 3/6/09

Being what it is, the Carnegie Hall complex has seen thousands of legendary debut performances. This was one of them. Welsh pianist Llyr Williams has such command of the keyboard that he seems to inhabit what he plays. There are thousands of hotshot pianists out there, few with Williams’ seemingly intuitive sensitivity to dynamics and emotional content coupled to a spectacular technical fluency. Throughout a program matching subtlety to fire, he came across as ideally suited to play the Romantics.

 

Schubert’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, D. 958 is classic Schubertiade material, ablaze with inviting color and glistening cascades. Williams left himself plenty of headroom to let those many shades reveal themselves in their complexity, particularly toward the end of the first movement where he used an almost jarring staccato in an ascending bassline to set off a contrast with the fluidly rapidfire upper-register chromatics following close behind.

 

Debussy’s Estampes, a trio suite, were next. The first, Pagodas is a remarkably successful attempt to translate Javanese gamelan music to the piano, a difficult work with its percussive pointillisms, but Williams made it look easy. Night in Grenada, the second of the three begins as a nocturne and then suddenly the lights come on, and Williams lit into it with gusto. With its rivulets rushing up and down the length of the keys, Garden in the Rain is a showstopper. Hailstorm would be a better title – by the time it’s over, the kale is shredded and the parsnips are half-unearthed by the torrents, and Williams barreled through it with a confident abandon.

 

The second half of the program was Pictures at an Exhibition, and it was nice to revisit the old warhorse. Ravel’s orchestrated version is the one that most audiences know, and that’s too bad because that one subsumes the creepiness in the original solo piano version, which isn’t simply phantasmagorical: most of it is flat-out morbid. Williams found all that, but he also gave its many caricatures depth and dignity. The Gnome in the opening section was menacingly substantial, the Old Castle as filled with fleeting ghosts as a castle can be, and when the Great Gate at Kiev came around, Williams had held enough in reserve to let its crashing fortississimo resound in all its towering majesty. He encored with a comfortably familiar Chopin piece, which was perfectly fine for what it was but couldn’t help but be anything other than anticlimactic. Now that we’ve seen what this guy can do with the 1800s, it would be interesting to hear what he does with Bach. Or Maxwell Davies.

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments