OPUS 13 • David Aladashvili (pn) • LP 1013 (73:43) Live: University of Southern Florida 9/13/2013
SCRIABIN Preludes, op. 13. SCHUMANN Symphonic Etudes, op. 13 (1837 version). RAZAZ Light. MATTON Presto furioso. Read more class="COMPOSER12">FRISCH Prelude. FRUCHT Bagatelle No. 4. NAKOA Saperavi. BOGUINIA _a minor prayer. HERTZBERG Largo Desolato. STONEMAN Celtlilá. SEVERINI Mini. BAKKER Weinerei. W. D. A. “Thirteen”. GOROKHOLINSKY Her Piano is Dreaming. VAN EEDEN “Farewell” Etude
The program on this enjoyable debut recording by 23-year-old pianist David Aladashvili was chosen according to a rubric almost certainly unprecedented in the history of recording. Aladashvili is a triskaidekaphile. Born on a Friday the 13th, and having begun his private music training at the age of 13, the young pianist harbors a special fondness for the proverbially unlucky number. His recording is comprised of two standard-repertoire works published as their respective composers’ op. 13 and a set of 13 pieces written expressly for this program by emerging composers, mostly colleagues of his from Juilliard, where he is currently completing his Master’s degree. (The performance from which this recording was extracted, given on a Friday the 13th, also included Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, perhaps the most famous op. 13 in the musical canon.) Aladashvili does not put forward the fatuous suggestion that the opus number is in any way reflected in the content of the music; he simply likes the number. Some listeners will be attracted by such whimsy; others may find it off-putting from an artist who is not a familiar enough personality for his extra-musical preferences to be inherently intriguing. I find it to be a savvy marketing maneuver; the program is unusual enough to draw the attention of buyers unfamiliar with the performer, and pairing the new works with such venerable discmates is a shrewd gambit for a wider audience than such works often receive.
Whatever one’s thoughts about Aladashvili’s programming strategies, the value of a recording is in its musical interest, and this recital is played quite well. It is extraordinarily accurate for a live recording of technically demanding works. Aladashvili displays a distinct, though still maturing, musical personality. And the performance is captured in a clear, resonant production that minimizes extraneous audience sounds without diminishing the sense of concert hall acoustics.
Aladashvili’s interpretations tend toward the lyrical. He treats the figuration in the second and fourth of the Scriabin Preludes Impressionistically, whereas many pianists approach these passages as whirlwinds of virtuosity. Aladashvili imparts a refreshingly simple, folkish quality to the third of the preludes, demonstrating a fine ear for harmonic color contrast within a consistently quiet dynamic range. I prefer Neuhaus’s more lavish, ardent approach to the fifth of these pieces; Aladashvili’s rubato, though sensitive, is rather conservative. This is one of the few pieces on the disc in which Aladashvili faces some technical limitations; he has difficulty bringing out the top note in the treacherous passages of double-sixths, and his legato is occasionally broken by unpedaled shifts in hand position. He is bold and brash throughout the final prelude, though this comes at the expense of some of Scriabin’s quieter dynamics. Yuja Wang’s recent recording of the piece is more impetuous and lighter, while Neuhaus’s is equally stormy but projects a greater sense of technical mastery.
Aladashvili presents a solid, self-assured performance of Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. He plays the theme with somber expressiveness and a fine sense of melodic line. I find his performance of the first variation to be a bit too clipped, with melody notes occasionally sacrificed to the prescribed staccato touch. But the second variation is quite accomplished, building to a captivating display of tragic grandeur without becoming overly heavy. The light, elfish variations are particularly charming. Aladashvili is less successful in the more thickly textured variations; in the fourth etude, he lacks the subtle gradations of dynamics that allow Ashkenazy to maintain a sense of melodic direction, and does not vary his articulation enough in the eighth etude to highlight its counterpoint. His presentation of the penultimate etude is atmospheric and mysterious, with a rubato that nicely emphasizes Schumann’s unsettling use of dissonance. Both Kempff and Hess take this etude considerably more slowly, however, making for a more intimate, introspective performance. Likewise, though Aladashvili’s approach to the final etude is boisterous and celebratory, it is also rather heavy. Ashkenazy peppers this etude with occasional doses of staccato, lending it a welcome sense of levity. The overall effect of Aladashvili’s performance of the cycle, though, is quite impressive.
The 13 commissioned works present an intriguing cross-section of several trends among young composers. Minimalistic textures and figurations, white-note sonorities, repeated notes, and drones are heavily featured, as in Yuri Boguinia’s hypnotic a minor prayer, which places increasingly truncated fragments of the natural-minor scale against triads moving in contrary motion and includes extended passages of slowly repeated single notes voiced in a variety of registers. Two attractive perpetual motion pieces are included. Jules Matton’s Presto furioso, an acknowledged reimagining of Bartók’s Allegro Barbaro, generates a wealth of fragmentary melodic material from its opening ostinato figure. Aaron Severini’s Mini presents brief chromatic runs in every register of the piano, occasionally harmonized by thick bass chords but generally quite light in texture. Gentle quartal harmonies color a number of the pieces, such as Yuri Bakker’s Weinerei, written in and named after a Berlin wine bar, and Simon Frisch’s Prelude, based on a restless upward-striving motivic figure. Perhaps the most successful of this group is Gity Razaz’s Light, in which improvisatory treble figuration is supported by an undulating rotation of minor-ninth harmonies in atmospherically ear-catching passages. Aladashvili performs these pieces with conviction and successfully makes their emotional content available to the listener.
Aladashvili is a very talented pianist with the potential to become a very fine pianist. His instincts for rubato, articulation, and dynamic contrast all point in what feels to me to be the right direction; what he lacks is the seasoning to know when an extra fraction of a second of ritardando will build the harmonic tension to a point of ideal suspense or when to achieve a crescendo via thickening of texture rather than via a sheer increase of volume. This is what distinguishes his playing from that of Neuhaus or Hess, with whom Aladashvili should not yet be expected to compete. I do not mean by this that Aladashvili’s playing lacks subtlety; the first of the Scriabin pieces, for example, exhibits a gentle melancholy not found in many recordings, which commonly treat the piece as a more public pronouncement. What Aladashvili lacks is the refinement that he will develop over the next several decades. It would take a truly prodigious talent—on par with William Kapell’s, for example—to have that refinement this early. But what Aladashvili is already able to do is well worth hearing.
Preludes (6) for Piano, Op. 13by Alexander Scriabin Performer:
David Aladashvili (Piano)
Period: 20th Century Written: 1895; Russia Date of Recording: 09/13/2013 Venue: The Concert Hall of the University of So Length: 8 Minutes 39 Secs.
Symphonic Etudes for Piano, Op. 13by Robert Schumann Performer:
David Aladashvili (Piano)
Period: Romantic Written: 1837/1852; Germany Date of Recording: 09/13/2013 Venue: The Concert Hall of the University of So Length: 23 Minutes 30 Secs.