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Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin: Peter Jablonski (piano), Askin Ensemble, “Istanbul Recitals” at MKM Mustafa Kemal Center, Istanbul 17.2.2010 (AM)

Andante Favori in F Major, WoO. 57
Liszt: En rêve (Nocturne), S.207, R.87; Ballade No.2 in B Minor, S.171; Hungarian Rhapsody No.10 in E Major, S.244
Chopin: Piano Concerto No.2 in F Minor, Op. 21


Istanbul Recitals, half way through their 2009-10 season, continue to bring celebrated and talented pianists over to Istanbul to a much appreciative crowd. This time the man of the hour was Peter Jablonski, the Swedish wonder child who has an impressing number of twenty-two recordings, as well as appearances with Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Cleveland, BBC Symphony, et al under his belt. Tonight’s program featuring works by three masters was particularly noteworthy for its inclusion of Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto accompanied by a chamber –rather than a full sized- orchestra.

Beethoven’s Andante has always been a crowd favourite since its publication in early 1800s (thus the title), and this evening the piece received a warm –if a bit too romanticized reading from Jablonski. I thought the piece should have been played exactly like Peter Jablonski did tonight: clasping onto the tension in the Allegro even if only as a keepsake -had Beethoven kept it as the Waldstein slow movement. However, as a stand-alone piece its purpose has become completely different. Andante Favori is very sweet, but never syrupy. Mr. Jablonski’s hands glided effortlessly across the keyboard during a better portion of the piece, but he seemed to be going for a ‘more-passionate-than-called-for’ effect, particularly in the staccato octaves section. But this is Beethoven after all, and a little ‘quixotism’ may often be hard to resist.

As I was nervously anticipating the absolute contrast between the pensive conclusion of the Andante and the feral introduction to the Ballade, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the dream-like opening phrases of the B Minor Nocturne instead. This -most likely, on the fly program change was very welcome, for En Reve would mostly go ignored if it were sandwiched between the Ballade and the Rhapsody as the program dictated. This work, which is one of Liszt’s selectively few reaches into the dreamlike world of nocturnes, is two minutes of pure bliss. The work is diminutive only in length. It makes up for its short duration with ample musical ideas. The piece is vaguely reminiscent of Chopin’s Op. 62 set with its waiflike melodies in terms of mood and its insistent trills in terms of writing technique. Mr. Jablonksi’s performance here was admirable. His touch was gentle and his trills were perfectly equalized.

The immediately following B-minor Ballade violently shook us out of the quietude that we had wrapped ourselves with so far, and by the time the igniting, dizzyingly-turbulent chromatic motif in the bass register echoed back from the back of the auditorium, Peter Jablonski was already in an all-Liszt form. He played the work magnificently throughout, tackling through its many ploys and traps effortlessly. The dark atmosphere of the opening faces many contrasts as the music moves along. The Ballade shifts in form and dynamics -such as in the contrasting theme and the middle sections in which the composition takes a brilliant sonority while keeping its ominous air. As large as the work is in its scope, it still has to come together in the end, and here, we had a performer who gave every aspect of the piece its due not only separately, but also as a whole. A special mention must be made regarding Mr. Jablonski’s aptitude in the coda section. There are very few pianists who are able to play this already difficult part with enough opacity to bring out the concealed reprise of the opening theme that it contains. Peter Jablonski’s transparency was in precisely the adequate dose to make us hear the theme in passing.

The first half of the concert was concluded with one of Liszt’s most notoriously technical works: 10th Rhapsody in E- Major. From the opening chords and upward runs, to the gracious melody lines and particularly the glissandi sections, this work’s difficulties are in plentiful. Mr. Jablonski’s playing here was virtually faultless. My only objection was to his injection of slightly excessive rubato which stole a little from the dance elements.

The second half of the evening was reserved for Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 in F Minor. Joining Peter Jablonski on stage was Cihat Askin, the celebrated Turkish violinist who also acts as the musical director for many national groups and orchestras. The recently established ‘Askin Ensemble’ in which Mr. Askin is both the director and one of the first violinists, played Chopin’s Op. 21 in its transcribed version for chamber orchestra.

Despite many criticisms surrounding them, I value both Chopin concerti very highly. The two major orchestral works of the composer are generally condemned for lack of eloquent orchestration, which may indeed be the case. However, in those piano parts are some of Chopin’s most inspired compositions. Luckily, for Chopin fans who are put off by his orchestration, a middle way has been slowly springing into action by means of chamber versions of the two concerti in which instruments are delegated their proper accompanying duties. Chopin’s own chamber versions –even if they were scribbled down for practicing purposes, reportedly do exist, so the numbering down of orchestral tools is not entirely against the nature of these works themselves. The transcription that the Askin Ensemble performed do not alter the piano parts at all. Seemingly, it was purely a redistribution of orchestral roles.

The opening Maesteso, where the music often takes a very muscular appearance, naturally had to suffer from a certain degree of lack of intensity. The ensemble on stage set off a little hurriedly and for a moment there seemed to be a risk of things steering out of balance. When the piano entered, however, it all turned good. Mr. Jablonski, clearly shaken off his grandiloquent Liszt prose, graciously made his entrance and took the tempo down a notch to which Askin and his team swiftly went along. The achingly beautiful Larghetto suffered a bit in the middle section mostly because the violins anteing up the tension were featured more prominently than they are called for. In this section the initially agitated piano is supposed to progressively calm down the trembling strings by the way of sweetening its melodies. But here the violins refused to back down, forcing the pianist and the music to jump ahead. The final movement was where everything came together and no orchestral parts felt missed at all –not the interludes between the strings and the woodwinds, and not even the mighty horn call. Maybe better to scratch that last bit, for the cellos who were assigned the horn call near the end had an unfortunate glitch which was rectified after the concert was over. Mr. Jablonski left the stage with a well deserved [mostly] standing ovation but reappeared shortly for a retake of the last two minutes of the Allegro Vivace. Bravo to all the musicians for that retake in good faith. It might have easily gone unnoticed, but with that simple act of good will, Mr. Askin and his ensemble proved that they respect their musicianship and that is basically all an audience can ask and hope for.

Alain Matalon



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