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Liszt: Gergely Bogányi, piano; Megaron, the Athens Concert Hall 4.2.2011 (BM)

It seems almost absurd that this season’s most exciting recital so far in Athens was not open to the public. Not only that, most of those who received the elaborate invitation to ‘a classical piano concert’ from the Hungarian Embassy were probably not even initially aware that they were in for a rare treat. Moreover, on the evening of the recital itself, it took a while for the organizers to get around to the music itself. After the doors had closed a quarter of an hour late – usually unheard of at the Megaron – the Ambassador proceeded to give a speech, in the course of which we learned that this was the Embassy’s ‘cultural kick-off event’ for the Hungarian EU presidency.

Only then was Bogányi allowed to finally take the stage, and he started out by running his fingers up and down the keys of the concert grand before he launching into the Hungarian Rhapsody no. 15, aka as the Rákóczi March, one of Liszt’s musical masterpieces which also happens to be a timelessly popular, patriotic piece at state and military celebrations. It sounded like a ‘politically correct’ version on the face of it, but the mischievous sound of Gypsy cimbalons drawn from the piano beneath some exceptionally flamboyant playing told otherwise. This was followed by what are some of Liszt’s most beautiful transcriptions (an art in which he was an undisputed master): those of Lieder by composers he revered. The first two are seldom heard to this day, Wiosna (Spring) and Moja Pieszczotka (My Darling), by Chopin, who – alas – believed that these little Polish songs were mediocre works, and no one could better convey the tender modulations and delicate form of these miniatures than Chopin-specialist Bogányi (read about his recent “Chopin-Marathon” here: Liszt’s version of Robert Schumann’s Widmung, dedicated to his beloved Clara, is one of the most superb of the piano repertoire, and this evening’s rendition was one of the finest ever heard, with the arpeggios shimmering up and down across an exquisitely wrought melody that went straight to the heart. Of the subsequent Schubert transcriptions on the program, Bogányi left out the wonderful Die Post (ostensibly because the preliminaries had consumed too much time and he was already running late…), but Du bist die Ruh, as delicate as it was intense, Auf dem Wasser zu singen and especially a majestic, thundering Erlkönig with its hair-raising octaves were no small consolation for this loss. With the help of such an astounding pianist, Liszt can easily convince us that these songs are much better off sung by the piano alone. Not only is Bogányi capable of emulating the human voice on the piano, though, he can also reproduce the sound of an entire orchestra, as he proved with the Mephisto Waltz no. 1 (The Dance in the Village Inn) in conclusion of the first part of his performance.

What followed after the intermission (during which some lingered in the foyer well after the final bell, watching videos about Hungarian landscapes and culinary delights, so that Bogányi wait on stage at the piano until the audience was settled) was unquestionably the highlight of the evening: Liszt’s Sonata in b minor, dedicated to Robert Schumann. The origins of this piece have been subject to much speculation, but listening to this particular rendition one might be convinced either of the programmatic ‘Garden of Eden’ theory, or, and perhaps even more so, by those who claim that the source of Liszt’s inspiration was biographical. One thing is for sure, though, and that is that the sonata is rarely performed with such deep emotion and spirituality, from beginning to (otherworldly) end, and one can only hope that Bogányi will record it. (He has already produced one excellent CD of Liszt pieces, entitled “Benediction”.) Having reappeared for numerous bows to thundering applause after this closing offering, he was finally approached by the Ambassador and convinced to sit down at the piano one more time. “I do not usually play an encore after the sonata, but in this case, of course I will…” (“humor you” – he seemed to be implying, and after a few seconds’ thought he announced one of Liszt’s most fiendishly difficult pieces, and a complete antipode to what had gone before: Gnomenreigen, the Dance of the Gnomes, played with sheer incredible flourish and conveying its message to those willing to receive it. What an exceptional artist: an extraordinarily sensitive and accomplished musician doing his country proud, he fit the bill of this Embassy event in his Hungarian coat (similar to the one worn by Liszt in a famous portrait, a reproduction of which had been hung behind the piano), but neither did he hesitate to tell even a high-ranking fellow countryman where to get off, albeit in the language of music.

At a master class taught at the distinguished Athens Kodály Conservatory ( on the day following this concert, Bogányi never tired of emphasizing what is clearly his foremost principle: “You can play this piece in a hundred different ways,” he told a student working on Chopin’s Ballade no. 1, “but never, ever without the meaning”.

Bettina Mara

(An interview with Gergely Bogányi will be appearing shortly in Seen and Heard.)


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