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Chopin, Rachmaninov, Liszt: Dejan Lazic (piano) MKM Mustafa Kemal Center, Istanbul 13.1.2010 (AM)

Andante Spianato &Grand Polonaise for piano Op. 22; Ballade No.3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 47; Sonata No.2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 35; Scherzo No.2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31
Rachmaninov: Moments Musicaux, Op. 16
Liszt: Venezia e Napoli S.159 (from Années de Pèlerinage, 2nd Year)

The warm anticipation for the piano recital of prime romantic works by the young Dejan Lazic was the perfect antidote to the wet and cold weather outside the MKM Auditorium in Istanbul. The program - featuring works from three Romantic masters, included Chopin’s inimitable Andante Spianato &Grande Polonaise as an introduction, as well as Rachmaninov’s Moments Musicaux –two pieces that are seldom heard live. Given that my favourite renditions of these works are from live recordings (Chopin’s Op. 22 from Gekic’s Chopin Recital CD dated 1989, and Rachmaninov’s Op. 16 by Pogorelich from 2001), I seated myself with a little extra eagerness.

Mr. Lazic’s approach to the Andante Spianato was on the softer side, his broad use of pedals creating equally hypnotic and serene left hand arpeggios and a pearly right hand finger touch bringing forth the exquisite and gentle melodies. The Andante does not offer a contrasting theme to speak of. Instead, the trio merges seamlessly with the main theme, keeping the music in a silky sheath until it appears for the second time, to bring the music to an graceful conclusion. Mr Lazic kept his restraint all the way through, tickling the keys as if they were pearls of the most fragile nature. However, when he subsequently introduced the Grand Polonaise, he instantly switched to a more animated mode. The Polonaise, originally written for piano and orchestra had its reincarnation later in 1836 as a solo piano work. The arguments still linger on to this day whether the music works better as originally conceived or for solo piano. As this brilliant dance piece was Chopin’s final array into orchestral writing, my view is that it has to be cherished as such. On the other hand, since the Polonaise was also one of Chopin’s own showcase pieces as a pianist, I would rather hear and see it in its solo piano version when in an auditorium. The music is extremely difficult to realize. There are phrases galore that demand fast, accurate finger work and a perfect synchronicity between the two hands is often required. Mr. Lazic’s abundant technical faculties were particularly evident in the chordal chromatic passages as well as in the following highly-ornamented dance parts. He made sure every beat note stood out and every note in the fast monophonic passages got equal time. My only complaint -which can be attributed to where I was seated -  was that the sound from the low register occasionally overtook the whole sonic spectrum. The pianist did not seem to be purposely creating such an effect, so it has to be either my location in the auditorium or, perhaps, an eccentricity of the instrument itself.

Chopin’s Third Ballade in A-Flat Major Op. 47 sounds technically less demanding than the preceding two, but under the hood it is more complicated than either of them both thematically and contrapuntally. The introduction is a siren inviting the unaware listener to turbulent waters ahead –if an aphorism on the commonly believed inspiration for the piece is allowed. Mr. Lazic’s started the piece tenderly enough but gradually raised the ante during the initial theme’s repetitions, setting his audience for the fuoco mood that was soon to follow. Chopin changes the key signature of the main theme during the piece, but thanks to his genius in composing bridges between themes, it hardly gets noticed and therefore it is crucial that the performers do not exhibit overt signals regarding these modal changes. The piece is supposed to run smoothly, revealing subtle transformations in temperament alone. My favourite moment from Mr. Lazic’s performance of the piece came from the agitated variation of the second theme. His steady working towards a climax paid off with a thrilling presentation of this tumultuous coda section and the listeners gave a hearty applause as he left the stage for a swift pause.

When Dejan Lazic returned, it was time for Sonata No.2, Op. 35. This is yet another work of which my favourite rendition comes from a live recording: that of Natan Brand’s. The contrasts between and within the Sonata’s movements are attained more efficiently when the recording is spontaneous and is not a result of repeated takes. What we had heard from Lazic regarding his impulsiveness so far, suggested that we could expect an extraordinary performance of the B-Flat Minor Sonata. However, the sonic problems that I had been experiencing were perhaps never more apparent than when he started playing the first movement of the monumental work. The accompanying chords in the lower register seemed to take over the all-important tormented melodies in the middle and higher registers. These bars are particularly crucial in defining the disposition of the Sonata as a whole. However, my inclination is still that it had to be an acoustic glitch and that the fault did not lie with the pianist. His playing in terms of technical and poetic aspects of the work was more than adequate and even had the potential to be electrifying had he gotten the chance to dive into the Scherzo armed with the full vigour he had accumulated during the Doppio. Unfortunately it was not to be, as he was forced to take a pause thanks to a timid round of applause between the two movements. The Funeral March in Mr. Lazic’s hands seemed to gravitate towards the amiable middle section shaping the attitude towards the dramatic outer sections to sound agreeable –which, in my view, is not what this movement should be about. The presto, in contrast, was outstanding in every imaginable way. With very apt and intermittent pedal use, perfect unison in both hands and the right tempo, the Sonata emerged triumphant in the end.

Chopin’s Second Scherzo in B-Flat Minor is a piece with many contrasting themes, temperaments and rhythms. It is almost a complete sonata on its own. From the opening query-answer session to its overtly dramatic theme, then onto a cheery dance and a love poem returning back to its grave subject, it displays a wide spectrum of compositional techniques and hence demands the same amount of variety from the pianist. The program sequence was almost drawn to prepare Dejan Lazic for the Scherzo. Of course, this piece has been played and recorded to death and it is very rare for a performer to bring something new to the music. Lazic’s rendition presented no revelations to speak of but his ability to suit his mode to the music proved to be indispensable for these ten or so minutes of constant mood change to palpitate. Mr. Lazic plays with his palms flat against the keyboard touching the keys with his fingertips, a method I find most suitable for Romantic piano music. It gives the performer more control over nominal changes in dynamics, which in turn helps him personify a work and differentiate his approach. The most memorable moments from the Scherzo were in the A major trio which benefitted from the pianist’s placid style during this elegiac segment.

The second half’s opener, Rachmaninov’s Six Moments Musicaux is superlative high-romanticism at it best. As few as its available recordings are, they almost invariably come from live recordings (Berman’s 1976 Milano and -at the opposite end of the spectrum, Pogorelich’s poetic 2001 live accounts immediately come to mind). The Andantino -although it bears some of the characteristics of Rachmaninov’s preludes, with its throbbing, yearning melody and soft arpeggios in the opening section, followed by two distinct and more turbulent variations to arrive back at the initial theme demands the pianist to keep the structure impact –a duty Mr. Lazic was happy to oblige. He was in an all-etudes mode going into the Allegretto, taking full advantage of the brightness of the Yamaha Grand going at this fast paced work at full verve, not refraining from hitting all the fortes with some extra punch. That brings us to the Andante Cantabile, a piece in which I don’t actually see myself qualified to comment. The truth is, I am so much taken by Pogorelich’s aforementioned live performance at half the regular tempo (which many, perhaps rightly so, think is a travesty) that my conception of this wrist-slasher is perverted. Dejan Lazic gave a noble and even majestic performance here, but I am of the conviction that the piece is a Funeral March despite the “Cantabile” it carries in its title and thus gains a novel perspective when played at approximately half the stated tempo mark. The Presto Moment which echoes the distinctively solemn chords of the third was where Mr. Lazic shone most brightly this evening. This extremely taxing work (particularly on the left hand) seemed to offer no difficulties for the pianist as he glided through the piece without any hindrances. I was glad to learn later from Mr. Lazic himself that he was also pleased with his performance here. The charming lyrical Barcarolle which was to follow gave the audience the breathing space it needed. The Maesteso arrived soon after though, and once again Mr. Lazic showcased his technical brilliance along with his skill at counterpoint which this last Moment offers in abundance.

The final work that Mr. Lazic presented us this evening was the set of three supplemental pieces to the 2nd year of Années Pelegrine: Italy. There was much finesse and subtlety in the calm Gondoliera and the dark Canzone. However, the fanfare began as Dejan Lazic leaped right onto the Tarantella, the most popular piece of this set. The dance was hectic but jaunty and the pianist hardly missed a note in the frantic brilliant passages. When this last piece on the program was over, Mr. Lazic hardly showed any signs of fatigue and he looked as if he was ready to continue playing well into the evening. Alas, no encore came unfortunately, and we had to settle for what we were thus far bestowed: A warm romantic evening decked with a very wisely chosen set of works and a very talented pianist.

Alain Matalon

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