An evening with a remarkable pianist…a music review by Fraser Beath McEwing

May 15, 2016 by Fraser Beath McEwing
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While there are many valid opinions as to who is the best classical pianist in the world, you do know when you’re in the presence of a contender. That was how I felt after hearing Alexander Gavrylyuk in recital at the Theme & Variations Foundation fundraiser last night.

Alexander Gavryluck

Alexander Gavrylyuck

As ambassador of the Foundation, Gavrylyuk took time out from a busy concert schedule to play for a small audience of devotees, among whom was Professor Marie Bashir, former Governor of NSW. Seated at a Steinway model D concert grand, and surrounded by pianos of all shapes and sizes, Gavrylyuk’s performance was simply astonishing, emphasising how recent years have augmented his technique and depth of musical interpretation.

He began with the slow movement of Schubert’s sonata No 13 in A major, settling the audience with its peace and contemplation and perhaps readying us for what lay ahead.

The first change of mood came in the form of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-tableaux Op 39, a group of nine contrasting pieces representing a high point in Rachmaninov’s writing for solo piano. Lush, rhythmic and passionate, these pieces are at the very heart of romanticism and call for an exceptional technique to bring them off. Voicing adds a further dimension to both the difficulty and projection of the Etudes-tableaux.

There are often three distinct voices wanting to be heard, as well as Rachmaninov’s habit of moving between major and minor as the plot develops. Gavrylyuk’s has always been at home with Rachmaninov but in this concert he told the stories in three D, not afraid to drift down to pianissimo and then release thunder with no apparent limit.

The final offering of the program was Balakirev’s Islamey, reputed to be the most difficult piano solo ever written. While it has become popular as a competition work, not many established pianists take the risk of performing it because if things go wrong it can become a train wreck.

Gavrylyuk’s speed at the staccato opening had me doubting he could keep it up. How wrong I was. He maintained and even increased the punishing tempo throughout the piece while still keeping its shape under control. But this was more than a show of blurred hands and arms to produce machine-gun busts of notes. Gavrylyuk got to the heart of the Oriental Fantasy by lingering over the quiet respite passages, thus making sure that this was evocative music with a message, and not just a staggering technical showpiece.

One day, maybe in the distant future, we might tell somebody: “I was lucky enough to hear Alexander Gavrylyuk play at a salon concert in Willoughby when he was still a young man.”

 Alexander Gavrylyuk will appear at the Sydney Recital Hall on Thursday 16 June 2016 at 7.30 pm.

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