Saturday, 24 October 2015

ILYA RASHKOVSKIY Piano Recital / The Joy of Music Festival 2015 / Review

The Joy of Music Festival
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall
Wednesday (14 October 2015)

It is hard to believe that ten years ago, in 2005, 20-year-old Russian pianist Ilya Rashkovskiy was awarded First Prize at the First Hong Kong International Piano Competition. Then I predicted he would go on on win further prizes in further major competitions. This he duly obliged, garnering First Prize at the 2012 Hamamatsu International Piano Competition, and coming close at the Queen Elisabeth (Brussels), Vianna da Motta (Lisbon), Enesco (Bucharest) and Arthur Rubinstein (Tel Aviv) competitions. At 30, he's all done with concours, but what a journey! Listening to his latest recital, he has also matured. Mere technical proficiency has  given way to a certain fearlessness and the ability to “mix it in” with the music, without fearing what the jury might think.

Just to put things in perspective: in Hamatmatsu where he so convincingly triumphed, 4th placing went to the fellow Russian Anna Tcybuleva. Today, Tcybeuleva is the latest winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition, which just concluded last month.

Rashkovskiy's present repertoire has begun to reflect the inner musician in him. The Russian warhorses still remain, but he has been able to include works that bring out qualities other than outright virtuosity. In a selection of five Rachmaninov Preludes from Op.23, it was the slower ones – Nos.1 (F sharp minor), E flat major (No.6) and G flat major (No.10) – that shone out with an innate lumincescence. Of course, he could still barnstorm in the popular G minor (No.5) and C minor (Op.7) Preludes like before.

Ravel's slender Sonatine was a curious choice, but that was prime opportunity to display restraint and plain good taste. This finely-honed musicality was balanced by the whirlwind of a finale, which showed he could summon the fireworks at will. Even better was Georges Enesco's First Sonata, a rarity if any, which deserves to be heard more often than his First Romanian Rhapsody. It is a three- movement masterpiece of colour and myriad shades, about 18 minutes long, once likened to Dante's Purgatorio, Inferno and Paradiso in miniature.

The nocturnal mood of the opening movement was captured most beautifully, with flickering half-lights amid long shadows, punctuated with violent asides, and the skittish scherzo-like middle movement, which flitted about like the mysterious wisp o' the wisp. The final slow movement, gripping in its intensity and alive with expectancy, capped the finest performance of the evening.

There were two obligatory showpieces in single movements, Scriabin's Fifth Sonata and Prokofiev's Third Sonata. No recording quite matches live performances of the Scriabin, and this listener would gladly experience Rashkovskiy's volatile and highly-charged reading in a concert hall than sit in front of the stereo for Horowitz or Richter. Never has the right hand's chords flown with such mercurial speed and lightness, but being there in person was the price of believing such sleights of hand were indeed possible. Similarly, the Prokofiev was given a thunderous outing, where the abrupt shifts between motoric drive and smooth lyricism where made possible by a superior technique.

Rashkovskiy was joined by fellow Hong Kong winner Jinsang Lee (the 2008 edition of the competition) in Arno Babadjanian's Armenian Rhapsody, which was an enjoyable romp from its melancholic opening to a riproaring dance-like finale. The applause had barely died down, when Rashkovskiy's encore silenced them completely. In the face of such overwhelming virtuosity, it was refreshing to hear some “simple” Chopin, the gentle lilt of his Waltz in C sharp minor (Op.64 No.2). Simply ravishing too.  

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