Thursday, 17 October 2013

ILYA RASHKOVSKIY Piano Recital / The Joy of Music Festival 2013 / Review

Tuesday (15 October 2013
City Hall Concert Hall

Ilya Rashkovskiy was the first 1st Prizewinner of the 1st Hong Kong International Piano Competition in 2005. Ironically, he is also the youngest of the three 1st prizewinners that have been crowned over the years. Since then, he had gone on to win 1st Prize at the 2012 Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, and has quit the competition circuit for good. His recital was a programme entirely centred on Russian ballet music transcribed for piano.

He began with the Ten Pieces from Romeo and Juliet (Op.75) by Sergei Prokofiev, an established repertoire work. Not all of the pieces sound totally convincing to me, the composer having to reduce the full resources of an orchestra to just 10 fingers. The opening and fast Village Dance is so awkward that some pianists omit it altogether, like Lazar Berman in his Deutsche Grammophon recording. Rashkovskiy nevertheless gave it a good workout, never faltering in its endless sequence of turns and whirls. The fast movements came off less well than the slower ones. The hectoring Masques, feuding Montagues and Capulets and mischievous Mercutio have that tendency to sound percussive, even under hands as good as Rashkovskiy’s, which was why much relief was brought on by Friar Lawrence, Dance of the Girls with Lilies and the final Romeo and Juliet Before Parting. The closing number truly brought out the essence of this set, which formed the first half of the concert.

Rashkovskiy included the Adagio from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, as transcribed by Mikhail Pletnev, and that was a stunningly beautiful, right up there with the Andante Maestoso from The Nutcracker. The cantabile melody was brought out with great poise and delicacy, and the movement built up to a true climax, so typically the high point in ballet performances.

One almost wished more of Pletnev’s transcriptions were played, instead of that overwrought Guido Agosti arrangement of Stravinsky’s Firebird. The decibel level and multitudes of notes in the Danse Infernale almost matched those of an orchestra’s, and here Rashkovskiy’s resources were taxed to the limit. Nearly faltering in the mad scramble for fast-paced accuracy, that took the shine off somewhat from the music. Much better was the slow Berceuse with its progression of delicious harmonies lovingly brought out and the romping Finale and glorious close.

The recital closed with more Stravinsky, his Three Movements from Petrushka. I have had just about enough of this virtuoso fodder showpiece, having heard five performances at the Van Cliburn Competition earlier this year. Did Rashkovskiy have anything more to add? For starters, he is no longer in “competition mode”, which is why he could afford the luxury of a few dropped notes in the Danse Russe. Yet his reserve seemed limitless, polishing off every thicket of hazards with great relish. The startling harmonies of Chez Petrushka, with that patented ear-wrenching “Petrushka chord”, still had the propensity to shock, while the sequence of dances in The Shrovetide Fair was fearlessly launched into.

In the latter, Rashkovskiy’s pace and accuracy would have to yield to my memories of Vadym Kholodenko’s highly characterised and balletic take at the VC, which had little to do with banging or scraping but the complete experience of dance and poetry in motion. Nevertheless, this was still an enjoyable reading from a fine artist, who I have seen mature over the years from his first Hong Kong triumph all those years ago. His encores were wonderfully varied, first a gentle Mompou Prelude before raising the roof with Scriabin’s Etude in D sharp minor (Op.8 No.12).  Bravos all around.


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