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Program Notes: Behzod Abduraimov

 

Antonio  Vivaldi

Siciliana in D minor (arr.  J. S. Bach and Alfred Cortot)

Nothing could be more  Baroque than an arrangement of an arrangement. The Baroque was a period in music  history in which music  travelled freely between instruments and instrumental ensembles. Bach’s Organ  Concerto No. 5 for solo organ BWV  596, composed sometime between 1713 and 1714, was actually his transcription for organ of the slow  movement from Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in D minor Op. 3 No. 11 (RV 565)  for two violins,  strings, and continuo. Bach’s organ version was then  in turn  transcribed for piano  by the French  pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) who  recorded his arrangement in 1937.

Written in the lilting dotted rhythm characteristic of the dance  form known as the siciliana,  it evokes  a gentle, pastoral mood tinged with tender melancholy, created by the characteristic use of Neapolitan (flat second scale degree) harmony.

 

Johann Sebastian Bach

Toccata and Fugue in D minor (arr.  Busoni)

For the Baroque organist the combination of toccata and fugue caught both heaven and earth  in its compositional grasp,  pairing fingers and brain,  keyboard virtuosity and contrapuntal mastery. In the 20th century Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor became one of the most popular and recognizable of organ works in this genre,  thanks  largely to its inclusion in Walt Disney’s  animated film  Fantasia (1940) and its subsequent championing by organists as diverse as the austere E. Power  Biggs  and the ever-flamboyant Virgil Fox.

The transcription of this organ work by pianist and industrious Bach-transcriber Ferruccio Busoni  (1866-1924) sets itself  the task of conveying in piano  sonority not only  the flamboyance of the Toccata’s virtuoso flourishes, but  also the complex and rich colouring of the thickly contrapuntal textures that make up the Fugue, with its chattering violinistic subject and many  pedal  points. For this the pianist’s right pedal  foot must be as skilled  as the fingers on his two hands.

 

Franz Schubert

Moments Musicaux Nos. 2 and 3 D. 780

The six small piano  pieces  that Schubert published in 1827 as Moments musicaux are as close as we can get  to hearing what a Schubert evening, a Schubertiade, must have sounded like with Schubert himself at the piano.  These pieces, while congenial in mood, are intimate, almost confidential in tone. They are meant for home  entertaining, and not  far removed from the spirit of song. The melodies are singable and the keyboard range  used extends little beyond the range  of the human  voice.

No. 2 in A flat opens  with a succession of lyrical melodic fragments of small range that stop and start as if a daydream were  being constantly interrupted, and then re-begun. Even the more  sustained tone of the middle section in the minor mode seems to circle  contemplatively around a single  note,  as if caught in a state of reverie.

No. 3 in F minor is the most popular piece  in the set and was subsequently published separately under  the exotic title Air Russe, presumably because  dance- like pieces  in the minor mode were  thought typical of Eastern Europe.  Remarkably homogenous in rhythm, its middle section in F major  is more  characteristically Viennese  than Russian.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven

Sonata in F minor Op. 57 “Appassionata”

Beethoven’s 23rd  piano  sonata  of 1804-1805  is one of the works that,  along with his Fifth Symphony, stands  in the public imagination as emblematic of the composer’s explosive temperament; his angry pose of heroic resistance against all forces that would seek to tame  his indomitable will. Its outer movements, in particular, explored new terrain in terms of dynamic contrast, expressive range  and sheer technical difficulty. It was not  by chance  that he chose the key of F minor for this work,  as this key allowed him to write comfortably for the full keyboard range of his day, from F1 in the bass to a high  C7 in the treble, both of which appear in the score.

And  as he did in the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven chose to make his point with a bare minimum of motivic material, the elements of the entire first movement all being presented on the first page  of the score. First there  is the eerie pattern of dotted rhythms that softly rise through an F-minor arpeggio to culminate in a mysterious trill.  Then the repeat of this gesture a semitone higher introduces the idea of Neapolitan harmony (on the flattened second degree of the scale). This is answered by a corresponding semitone drop in the bass, setting up an explosion of sonority that rips down from the high  treble to the very  bottom of the keyboard. The motivic intensity of this movement is so dense that even the second theme,  in A flat, is a mere  variant of the first.  The opening fireworks are balanced, formally, by an extended coda  (as in the Fifth Symphony) that first erupts in apocalyptic fury  and then  relents to end the movement in a quivering tremolo, seething with menace  still, that recedes into  the sonic distance.

The Andante con moto slow  movement, a theme with four variations, is everything that the first movement is not: emotionally stable  and harmonically conventional, its expressive gestures played out  within a relatively small range  circling around the middle of the keyboard.

The dying embers of fading anger  that ended  the first movement return to life in the third movement, announced by a clarion call to arms on an unstable diminished 7th chord. This finale  is a moto perpetuo of restless  16th notes  ranging feverishly in a combination of arpeggios and scale patterns over  wide  swathes of the keyboard.

Here, too, motivic economy is much  in evidence: witness how  the second theme is merely a reproduction of the first,  but  placed in the dominant minor, five scale degrees higher.  Things  come  to a head in a closing Presto  section, described by Sir András Schiff  as a kind  of “demonic czardas,” that stomps and skips until  a final whirlwind of moto perpetuo material returns to sweep  the work to its conclusion in a cascade  of broken chords rattling from the top to the bottom of the keyboard.

 

Sergei Prokofiev

Sonata No. 6 in A major Op. 82

Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata  No. 6 is the first of the three  “War Sonatas” (Nos. 6, 7, and 8) written between 1939 and 1944 while  the Soviet Union  was at war with Nazi Germany. The Sixth  Sonata  was completed in 1940 and demonstrates well the obsessive rhythmic drive,  percussive attack, and dissonance-encrusted harmonies that characterize Prokofiev’s style  of piano  writing. The work comprises four movements which,  given  the extreme modernity of their  musical language, are laid out  in a surprisingly traditional pattern: sonata-form first movement, second movement scherzo,  slow  third movement, and rondo finale.

The sonata  opens  with an arresting ‘motto’ that descends three  scale steps, doubled with first a major  and then  a minor 3rd (C natural then  C #), creating a brilliantly colourful bitonal effect that,  even if it weren’t stutteringly repeated almost 40  times  in the course  of the exposition, would be memorable. A more tranquil second subject offers a contrasting vision  of where things are going, but  both are put  through the wringer in a development section peppered with repeated notes  before the opening motto returns in a recapitulation of brutal directness enacted over  a keyboard range  of more  than six octaves.

The Allegretto second movement has been called  a “quick march” and with a dependable four staccato beats  to the bar its metrical regularity comes  as a welcome relief  after the chaotic events  of the first movement. Its espressivo middle section adds a more  expansive note  of mystery and wonder to the proceedings. This movement ends almost humorously as its colourful harmonic pulses veer into port in the very  last bar.

The slow  waltz Tempo  di valzer  lentissimo, while  lacking any real Viennese  sense of lilt, has a wonderful vulnerability about it that is quite touching despite, or perhaps because  of the searching quality of its constantly shifting inner  voices,  even in the more  turbulent middle section.

The work closes, like the other two War Sonatas, with a toccata of breathless drive that scampers playfully between tonal centres like it owned them  all. It becomes increasingly haunted, however, by the thematic ghosts of the first movement and ends firmly in the grip  of the opening motto.

 

Mily Balakirev

Islamey Op. 18

Islamey  is one of those  lesser known pieces  from the 19th century that nonetheless had a significant impact on successive generations of composers. It was quoted by Rimsky-Korsakov in his Scheherazade, by Borodin in Prince Igor, and it remains  in the orchestral repertoire today thanks  to arrangements made  by Alfredo Casella and Sergei Lyapunov.

Mily Balakirev was the unofficial leader  of the Russian Five, a handful of musicians including Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, and César Cui who  sought to ground their  works in authentic Slavic musical traditions. Balakirev was himself an avid collector of folk tunes, and it was on a visit  to the Caucasus in 1863 that he first encountered the dance  tune  known as ‘Islamey’  that would become the first theme of his eponymous work for piano  solo, subtitled Fantaisie orientale.

A folksong popular among the Tatars  of Crimea  forms the subject of the work’s more  tranquil and lyrical middle section.

Islamey  was likely  composed as a virtuoso showpiece for Nikolai Rubinstein to perform at a concert held in late 1869 at the Free Music School  in St. Petersburg, founded by Balakirev. Rubinstein’s subsequent remark that he found certain passages  “difficult to manage” gained the work a reputation for being unplayable and it has doubtless driven many  a pianist into  physiotherapy—perhaps even psychotherapy—for attempting it. Scriabin was said to have injured his right hand while  trying to learn it, and Ravel famously remarked that his Gaspard  de la nuit was an attempt to write “a piece  more  difficult than Balakirev’s Islamey.”

Among the interpretive challenges the work presents is the choice of tempo. Long  stretches of interlocking passagework between the hands need to be able to “speak” well on the keyboard if the peppery rhythmic vitality and dancelike character of its opening theme are to be captured. Otherwise all one hears is a blur  of notes.  For Islamey  is more  than a mere  circus  act. It stands  at the apex of Romantic-era works for the virtuoso pianist and counts as a significant contribution to the cause of 19th-century musical nationalism in Russia.

 

Donald G. Gíslason 2016

Program Notes: Behzod Abduraimov

 

Program Notes: Behzod Abduraimov

Franz Schubert: Piano sonata in A major, D. 664 (Op. 120)

Scholars lack definite evidence for the date and place of composition of Schubert’s early A major sonata, but most are willing to grant that most likely he wrote it during the summer of 1819 while vacationing in Steyr in Upper Austria. He wrote to his brother Ferdinand that the surrounding countryside was “unimaginably lovely.” As biographer Brian Newbould notes, “the A major [sonata] is music of such wide-eyed youthful contentment that one could imagine it being a response to both the mountain scenery of Upper Austria and ‘a very pretty’ dedicatee.”

The work opens with one of Schubert’s most gracious melodies, one in which he takes obvious delight in spinning out to almost heavenly length. The second subject, hardly less enchanting, arrives soon and without preamble. The central slow movement focuses even more insistently than the first on a rhythmic pattern, one Schubert used often (a long followed by four short notes). This dreamy idyll is derived from a single theme that Schubert expands into a perfectly proportioned structure. The insouciant finale is again in sonata form. The lyricism, blithe spirit and overall sense of contentment have led annotator Konrad Wolff to call this music “a Viennese waltz danced in heaven.”

Some years ago, when he was music critic for The Ottawa Citizen, the late Jacob Siskind wrote that “the difficulty with most of the music of Schubert, and this is especially true of his piano sonatas, is to reconcile the seeming simplicity of the structure and the endless flow of melody with the emotional tension generated by the provocative key relationships of the various sections. In lesser hands, the music can sound merely pretty, or puzzlingly disjointed. In the hands of one who has the emotional depths to identify completely with the mysteries of the music, these scores have the capacity to heal the deepest emotional wounds.”

 

Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano sonata no. 23 in F minor, Op. 57 (Appassionata)

The Appassionata sonata (1804-06), along with the Op. 78 sonata in F sharp major, was Beethoven’s favorite up until the time he wrote the Hammerklavier sonata in 1819 (the 28th of his 32 piano sonatas). But whereas Op. 78, lovely and gracious as it may be, has never been a popular favorite, the Appassionata remains one of Beethoven’s greatest and most frequently heard works in any medium. As with so many of his compositions, the title was affixed not by the composer but by a publisher.

The opening movement is largely music of sound and fury, defined above all by rhythmic insistence. Both the defiantly rising principal subject (opening measures) and the lyrical, rising-and-falling second subject share a similar rhythmic pattern (long-short-long; long-short long), and both are built from arpeggios. Additionally, there is a rhythmic motto appearing often throughout the movement that corresponds exactly to that of the opening of the fifth symphony (da-da-da-daahh).

The second movement offers an oasis of tranquility and repose. It is a theme-and-variations movement built, like the second movement of the seventh symphony, more from a harmonic progression than from a melody. Each of the three variations employs increasingly rapid note values (eighths, sixteenths, thirty-seconds), following which there is a small coda that disintegrates into a mysterious chord, then, as if jolted with an electric shock, reenergizes itself and launches into the finale.

This concluding movement, in sonata form like the first, is one of the most demonic things Beethoven ever wrote, a musical juggernaut of relentless forward momentum and almost frightening power. Tension builds to almost unbearable levels, finally bursting its bonds in the presto coda which roars to an apocalyptic conclusion.

 

Franz Liszt: Scherzo and March; Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, Mephisto Waltz no. 1

The Scherzo and March may be one of Liszt’s lesser-known piano works, yet it is a formidable, ten-minute composition nonetheless. The title implies a two-part structure, but it is actually more than that. Following a short, mysterious introduction filled with gnome-like scurrying and scrambling figures, we arrive at a scherzo comprising two fully developed themes. Both suggest visions of hell, “a superb piece of diablerie,” as pianist Louis Kentner calls it. Then comes the march, which provides the central contrasting episode, “as if a Witches’ Sabbath were interrupted by a procession of monks carrying torches and chanting,” writes Kentner. The march rises to a fearsome climax, then recedes into the distance, after which the scherzo returns in shortened form. For a coda, the march music is recalled, now with elements of the scherzo as accompaniment.

Between 1847 and 1852, Liszt wrote a series of ten pieces under the rubric Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, a title he borrowed from a collection of poetry by Lamartine. The best known number from this set remains Funérailles (No. 7), followed closely by the Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude (No. 3), the longest and, in the opinion of many, the finest of the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses.

Liszt prefaced the score with these words from Lamartine: “Whence comes, O God, this peace that overwhelms me? Whence comes this faith with which my heart overflows?” A simple, hymnlike theme glides slowly upward in the left hand while the right hand accompanies with a gentle undulation that might well evoke the lambent light of votive candles in a small, private chapel. “Is there another piano piece with such hypnotic sweetness of sound?” asks pianist Alfred Brendel. The central section consists of two contrasting episodes in new keys and new tempos. When the opening theme returns, it is furnished with fuller harmony and cascades of arpeggios that bring to mind dazzling visions of transcendent beauty. The music rises to its ecstatic, fortississimo climax, then subsides into heavenly tranquility and resignation.

The nineteenth-century romantics were fascinated with the legend of Faust. Goethe’s monumental poem was the source of Liszt’s Faust Symphony, but it was another adaptation of the story that spurred him to write the first of his three Mephisto Waltzes. This was Nikolaus Lenau’s Faust of 1835, from which Liszt chose two unconnected passages and set them to music in the late 1850s. The Nocturnal Procession is seldom performed, but the other number, Dance in the Village Inn: Mephisto Waltz, became one of Liszt’s most popular pieces, both in its original orchestral form and in the subsequent piano arrangement.

Mephistopheles has led Faust to a small inn where a wedding celebration is in progress. The devil invites Faust to choose a woman and dance with her. After he chooses, Mephistopheles berates the village musicians for their bland, dull musicianship and offers to show them how to really play the violin. He borrows an instrument and creates a kind of music that bewitches everyone into “a whirl of bacchantic revelry” (Lenau). Frederick Niecks described the result as “the ne plus ultra of weirdness and unbridled sensuality in the whole domain of music.”

 

One of our favourite composers: Franz Schubert

“When Schubert wants to tell you something important, he will usually lower his voice rather than raise it – he draws you into the message, rather than projects it out to you.”  Paul Lewis

Last week, we pointed out Franz Schubert, a much-loved composer by our audiences, will be well represented in our 2012-2013 season.

Leading the charge is Paul Lewis. Is there anyone today who better represents the legacy of pianists who championed the composers of the First Viennese School? Now with the retirement of Alfred Brendel, this great tradition of piano playing is very much alive in the hands of this young British pianist.

Perhaps best known to our audiences for performing the complete sonatas by Beethoven, an Olympic feat, Paul returns with a program dedicated to the three final sonatas by Schubert, the composter with whom he is perhaps best associated.

Paul’s Vancouver performance is actually part of a multi-year Schubert project, which features a series of solo recitals based on the late piano music, and the great song cycles performed with tenor Mark Padmore.

A survey of his 2012 performances will astonish and impress (it will also give a sense of pride knowing the VRS performance follows on the heels of one at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center).

As if by design, but really by coincidence, two other pianists continue the theme of later Schubert: Simon Trpceski and Behzod Abduraimov.

Simon brings to the Chan Centre Schubert’s 16 German Dances (D.783) and the monumental “Wanderer” Fantasy (D.760). He has also chosen Liszt to pair with Schubert, and in so doing he includes Liszt’s Soirees de Vienna,Valses caprices d’après Schubert.

Behzod also pairs Schubert with Liszt, but adds Beethoven for a triumvirate of  towering composers for the piano. He offers the Sonata in A major (D.664), an earlier work, but one which can easily be included in Schubert’s catelogue of favourite and significant output.

Over the coming weeks we will continue to share with you other thoughts and opinions on our 2012-2013 Season. Series tickets are currently offered at exceptional prices with fantastic benefits (complimentary parking passes!).

SOME THOUGHTS ON OUR UPCOMING 12-13 SEASON

 

Today we want to share with you a few thoughts and facts about our recently announced 2012-2013 season:

UP FIRST: On October 5 András Schiff will open the 33rd season with an all-Bach program. In fact, András was one of the first artists who launched the Vancouver Recital Society in 1981. Like so many artists who followed, he made his Canadian debut in Vancouver.

CHEZ NOUS: The earliest performances were presented at the Granville Island Stage, but the Vancouver Playhouse was soon chosen as the ‘home’ for the Vancouver Recital Society. In the upcoming season we will present six afternoon performances at this downtown location.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: The VRS established its second ‘home’ soon after the opening of the Chan Centre at UBC in the spring of 1997. Now going into our 16th (!) season at this venue, we continue to present four afternoon performances along with four evening performances. Of course, Mr. Schiff adds a very special ninth performance at the Chan Centre.

In total, the 2012-2013 consists of 15 performances of which 10 are scheduled on Sunday afternoons.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT: we are very excited with our new, low “entry” price. For the first time it is possible to select a series of four performances for only $80 – or $20 for each performance.

AH, TO BE YOUNG AGAIN: our young audience members now have greater access then ever before with our Youth Club and Ru35 programs. Throughout the season, tickets can be had for as little as $16.

A POPULARITY CONTEST?: In our recent survey you ranked your favourite composers and, perhaps not surprisingly, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin came out on top. Happily, our 2012-2013 artists will give us a lovely dose of these top-rankers. As we have seen, Bach is in the best hands with András Schiff. Schubert is well represented throughout the season, most notably by Paul Lewis whose program is dedicated to the monumental three late piano sonatas. Adding to the Schubert repertoire are Simon Trpceski and Behzod Abduraimov. Behzod also brings us the ever-popular “Appassionata” sonata by that ever-popular composer, Beethoven. Armenian cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan brings Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante, and pianist Stephen Hough includes Nocturnes on his program.

2012-2013 is shaping up to be a most exciting season. Series tickets are currently offered at exceptional prices with fantastic benefits (complimentary parking passes!). Call our office at 604-602-0363 and we’ll be happy to discuss all our subscription options.

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