Roman Salyutov’s Melbourne piano recital

August 14, 2018 by Ron Jontof-Hutter
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Russian-German pianist Roman Salyutov visited Melbourne  on his way home from New Zealand where he enthralled music lovers in  a recital…writes Ron Jontof-Hutter.

The program started with Beethoven’s Sonata Nr 17 in D Minor, op. 31 no 2.

Israeli composer Alon Trigger, Ron Jontof-Hutter and and German pianist Roman Salyutov

Sometimes called “The Tempest” though not by Beethoven, the first movement alternates between calm and turmoil, exacting demands on the pianist through changing tone, technique and tempo which Salyutov mastered with confidence and aplomb. The second movement, lacking a developmental section, but opening with a broken chord as in the first, was played thoughtfully with dignity and purpose. Salyutov delighted the audience with the third movement especially. A sonata-rondo with a beautiful catchy first theme in some ways symbolises Beethoven’s inner struggle and determination to leave a lasting legacy of his artistic capabilities in the face of growing deafness. This sonata was completed around the time of his Heiligenstadt Testament in 1802. In this heart-wrenching letter Beethoven experienced self-doubt and contemplated suicide about this most cruel fate of a stone deaf composer of sublime music. Beethoven would surely have smiled at Salyutov’s expression of triumph 220 years later.

Next, Salyutov played the beautiful Schubert G- flat major and A- flat major Impromptus. A contemporary of Beethoven, Schubert is the quintessential Viennese composer. His music was mostly for the drawing-room, leaving us a rich legacy that included over 600 songs alone. Beethoven’s world was  that of the wealthy nobility while Schubert’s world consisted of artists and music lovers, including the synagogue cantor Sulzer who sang Schubert’s songs at his Schubertiana.  Schubert would later compose a choral work in Hebrew for his friend. Salyutov captured the introspective intimacy of these impromptus with sensitivity and finesse.

Salyutov then played Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody Nr. 12 in C –sharp minor. Written in 1853, just six years before Franz Brendel introduced the concept of “New German Music” which sparked the bitter War of the Romantics between those like Brahms who followed the traditional path of Beethoven and Liszt whose music heralded new forms of German nationalistic motifs in the symphonic poem, programme symphony and innovations in harmony and modulations.

Hungarian born Liszt identified with German culture and Hegel’s philosophy,  and indeed hardly spoke Hungarian. Yet he collected traditional Hungarian melodies, as well as composing his own in that style. At that time Hungary was part of the Austrian Empire.  This particular rhapsody includes a lively dance- czardas- attributed to Hungarian-Jewish composer/violinist Mark Roszavolgyi while the Allegro zingarese is attributed to gypsy composer/violinist Janos Bihari.

This Hungarian Rhapsody is a showpiece of pianistic acrobatics and melancholic moods. Salyutov sailed through these virtuosic challenges with confidence, to an admiring and appreciative audience.

Following intermission, Salyutov went back in time and played Mozart’s Sonata Nr. 10 in C major KV 330. Composed in 1783 when Mozart was 27 years old, this sonata represents a fine example of the classical sonata in form, modulation and ornamentation. Salyutov performed the sonata maintaining the discipline and spirit of that golden period of music. Tempi , phrasing and  judicious use of pedal reflected a rendition that was faithful to the music and the style of that epoch.  By inserting such a classical piece between mostly romantic works in the program, Salyutov demonstrated the contrasts in the development of music in Vienna very effectively.

Again some contrasts, this time with Chopin the father of Polish music, and a very different genre to what Viennese audiences were accustomed to.

Salyutov chose the Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat major op. 61 (1846) which is in itself an interesting piece of contrasts. Considered the “last” Chopin following “late” Chopin, the complex harmonies and ambiguous forms are seen as more fantasy than polonaise. The fantasy has sometimes been compared to Byron’s “shifting dream images.” Yet Chopin marked the score as “Allegro maestoso” which also characterises his other polonaises.  For Chopin, ”maestoso” referred to dignity and pride.

Salyutov  played this virtuosic piece with a thorough understanding of its complexities completing its contrasting demands with the final chord expressing will over doubt and the triumph of hope for the future.

Ravel’s “La Valse” completed the program. Completed in 1920, this remarkable piece recalls the First World War that ended 100 years ago. Recently we commemorated the amazing role General Sir John Monash played in the final major Battle of Amiens that essentially ended that horrific war-and with it, a Europe that lost much of its pre-1914 charm and elegance.

In some ways a companion to his Le Tombeau de Couperin to honour his friends that were killed in the Great War, La Valse mourns the demise of the essence of European culture with Vienna as its pinnacle. The Viennese waltz was the symbol of that bygone era, where charm, chivalry, elegance, style and etiquette were central features of the European Enlightenment. Ravel’s composition pays tribute to that lost culture, eventually ending with a crash-the final measure in the whole piece not in waltz time.

La Valse was not without further controversy. Diaghilev hurt Ravel by describing La Valse as not ballet but a “portrait of ballet,” which ended their relationship.  Ravel refused to shake his hand five later and Diaghilev had to be restrained by friends after challenging Ravel to a duel.  After 1918, one crash was evidently more than enough!

Salyutov brought out these features effectively, conveying  both its elegance and macabre frenzy, again displaying a combination of virtuosic skill with fine musicianship. He played three encores of Chopin, Albeniz and Tchaikovsky demonstrating his skills as a wonderful musician that combines intelligence, sensitivity, finesse and vigour across many genres.

Salyutov is also the founder of  the Yachad Chamber Orchestra that promotes German-Israeli music  performances.  We look forward to hearing more of this wonderful ambassador for music who brings to mind the spirit of Schubert’s beautiful song “An die Musik,” a tribute in honour of that “noble art.”

 12 August 2018, at South Melbourne Town Hall

Ron Jontof-Hutter is the author of the satire “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist.”

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