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A Tchaikovsky Gala: Behzod Abduraimov (piano) Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Grzegorz Nowak (conductor), Cadogan Hall, London 18.2.2010 (MMB)

Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture; Piano Concerto No. 1; Symphony No. 5.

“Wow!” That was the first word I managed to utter, after having the privilege of witnessing Behzod Abduraimov’s electrifying performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. I admit it wasn’t very eloquent but young Abduraimov’s playing was so unbelievably magnificent that it left me speechless. Those, who like me, were present in the full Cadogan Hall on this marvellous occasion will know exactly what I mean!

Behzod Abduraimov is a young (indeed very young at only nineteen) pianist from Tashkent in Uzbekistan and although, last April, he won the 2009 London International Piano Competition, I confess that I had never heard of him.

Tchaikovsky is a composer very close to my heart and his Piano Concerto No. 1 is one of my all-time favourites; one that I have been listening to since I was in my teens. It is not an easy work to deliver and many experienced pianists have declared that some passages can be awkward to play, especially in the second movement. Perhaps for this reason, most of them play it in a restrained, subdued manner, which tends to leave me rather disappointed. Well, there was none of that with young Abduraimov. He  threw caution to the wind and launched into it with gusto, delivering an extraordinary performance of rare beauty and unrestrained emotion. There was no hesitation, no break in concentration, no anxiety, no sign of nerves in this immensely talented young man. He appeared on stage, walking with the conductor, almost unnoticed, for he has the frame and looks of a boy of fifteen rather than one that has already reached adulthood. But, from the word go, it was clear that he meant business and there was no questioning his artistic maturity and virtuosity. His performance was technically flawless, be it in the cascades of strenuous octaves in the first movement, the delicate touch in the second or his breathtaking delivery of the third, which caused my skin to gain goose bumps, for its intensity and sheer beauty. I and the rest of the public in the Hall were simply astonished! Every note was perfectly judged and executed; clearly audible above the orchestra even in the most powerful, loudest passages where some pianists struggle to be heard. He never appeared stressed or under pressure from the large audience, always focused and determined. The music just seemed to naturally flow out of his fingers with liquid quality and radiant brilliance. His transitions from forte to piano and from piano to forte were all seamless and effortlessly executed. His speed and dexterity are simply mind boggling (does he really only have two hands?)! For somebody as young as he is, who cannot yet draw on rich and varied life experiences, the dramatic expression and the passion that he injected in the piece would to my mind have made Tchaikovsky proud! Abduraimov possesses a beautiful tone: he does variations and it is crystal clear. It also has colour, though perhaps, at times, it was a little declamatory but in the end, it did not matter, for it was minor and his rendition of the highest possible standard.

In one word, Abduraimov dazzled! His performance was breathtakingly glorious and, as he finished, there was a sense of wonder in the air, of having witnessed something really special. For a split second, the audience was stunned; then, they spontaneously jumped to their feet and gave him a rapturous standing ovation, which he truly deserved. He was effusively congratulated by Nowak, the conductor, and enthusiastically greeted by the orchestra. Abduraimov is already an accomplished, assured artist, yet he was unassuming and rather endearing, appearing almost confused while taking in the applause with a shy smile, as if he was not quite sure what to do.

The evening was however not only an Abduraimov affair. The musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were at their best and even seemed “contaminated” by the young pianist’s brilliance. They were excellent during Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto, beautifully accompanying the young soloist, in a great performance that show cased their technical skill and dramatic power, without ever overshadowing Abduraimov’s playing. The orchestra was led by Polish conductor Grzegorz Nowak who is Principal Associate Conductor of the RPO. Nowak is an energetic conductor with an exquisite presence. He is tall, slim and his enthusiasm for the music is intense and contagious; at times he almost appears to grow, towering above the orchestra, like a Nordic god commanding a storm; his hair swirling around his head as if taken by a sudden, furious wind! He led the RPO in a vibrant but romantic rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture though his and the orchestra’s greatest moment came with the final piece: the composer’s magnificent Symphony No. 5. Although Nowak’s style of conducting was flamboyant, he never neglected the score, and the music was delivered with great technical precision and well judged passion. The opening dark mood of the first movement was suitably sombre but he also captured the “balletic” quality of the third and the pure joy of the fourth and final, leading the orchestra in an exceptionally fine, exciting interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s music.

Nowak’s and the RPO’s performance was excellent throughout and one of the best that I have so far seen and heard; but great though they were, the night undoubtedly belonged to Behzod Abduraimov and his unbelievably fresh, awe-inspiring performance of the piano concerto. Make a note of this young man’s name: believe me you really don’t want to miss his next live appearance.

Margarida Mota-Bull

Margarida Mota-Bull's operatic e-novel, Canto de Tenore is available Here


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