On November 10 and 11, we had the pleasure of welcoming Boris Giltburg to the Lincoln Hall stage for a program of Ravel and Beethoven, as well as Russian composers Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov. Boris was in the news recently, receiving a prestigious Gramophone Classical Music Award this past fall; he won in the Chamber music category for his recording with the Pavel Haas Quartet of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No 2. Everyone was pretty excited to hear him during his PDX debut, and there was a noticeable positive energy in the air as the audience filtered into the hall.
Saturday’s Recital – Ravel, Beethoven, Shotakovich and Prokofiev
Saturday’s recital started with Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin, M. 68, one of Ravel’s more familiar pieces, probably in part because he not only wrote the piece for solo piano, but he also orchestrated four of the six movements. The Prelude was fluid and gentle to start, offering up the classic sound world of the Impressionists. The Fugue that followed – a common pairing with a Prelude in the baroque era – was imitative and had a kind of Bartok Makrokosmos vibe from the gesture and articulation. The rest of piece was made up of dance movements, though the writing is more stylized than you might find in baroque dance movements. I especially liked the Forlane, with beautiful dissonances and wonderful timing used to add to its tension and release; at times it sounded like a kind of Impressionist-style “space music.” The audience was captivated throughout as Boris pulled perpetually gorgeous sound out of the instrument, applauding and cheering when he was through.
The second piece on the first half was Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, No. 23 "Appassionata," one of his most beloved of the piano sonatas. This three-movement sonata in a fast-slow-fast order began Allegro Assai and was full of contrasts. Boris played with such exquisite control that he was able to easily bring out the personality and high drama of the piece. The levels of expression were ridiculously easy for him; it was total mastery of technique.
In the second movement, Andante con moto, we could distinctly hear the inner voices of the chorale passages along with the melody; the interplay of voices was delicious. In the final movement, Allegro ma non troppo — Presto, was filled with consistent even-movement – Italian style on steroids. There were some moments of calm but not for long. Ending on three strong F minor chords was satisfying, and his glorious performance yielded a standing ovation and multiple curtain calls.
At intermission, Boris came on stage to speak about his arrangement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73. He mentioned that he is a huge fan of Shostakovich and is jealous of the string players who get to play these pieces. “The string quartets are the greatest of his works – they are like little diaries,” he remarked.
The aforementioned arrangement was the first piece on the second half and is constructed in four movements. It was fascinating to hear what was, essentially, a new work for piano; though at times I could really hear the textures inherent to the string quartets. It was clear that Boris was enjoying himself, especially in the third movement, Allegro Non Troppo; it really looked (and sounded) like a fun piece to play. The final movement, Adagio-Moderato, had really nice contrasts – big sound to start, quiet moments toward the end. I particularly liked the section with an extended lingering note surrounded by softer lines.
The final piece on Saturday’s recital was Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 28 – all in one movement. As you might expect, there was a lot going on in a small amount of time. There were moments of rhapsodic walls of sound in the alto and tenor regions of the piano; the percussive central section added some appealing texture – at time the playing jangled like the best honkytonk piano. There were resonant low notes, gentle melodies, and energetic moments; in short, it is a piece of contrasts. The audience loved it, cheering and giving an extended standing ovation.
He played an encore, Rachmaninov’s Etude-Tableau Op. 39 No. 2 in A minor.
Sunday’s Recital – All the Rachmaninov Preludes
On Sunday, the program was devoted entirely to Rachmaninov’s preludes. Boris started with Prelude No. 1 in C-sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2; moved to the Ten Preludes, Op. 23; and ended with Thirteen Preludes, Op. 32. As Bill Crane said in the pre-concert talk, “I wish we had seatbelts in here, so I could say ‘strap in!’” It really was an adventure.
The first prelude, programmed by itself, is one of Rachmaninov’s most famous works, and it was a joy to melt into the rich “bells” that start the piece – it’s such a gorgeous chord progression. The audience really wanted to applaud after this piece, but Boris waved it off, apparently wanting to move on to the set of 10 preludes without much of a break.
Both the set of 10 and set of 13 preludes really ran the gamut of expressivity – tenderness, exuberance, passion; chords, waves of sound, extremes in register, wondrous passage work and rich harmonies. I could write about each prelude but that would make for a very long piece of writing. Instead, I’ll mention my favorite prelude in each group.
In the first group, I was particularly taken with the final prelude in G flat major (largo). It had a quiet yet emotional opening and was rather inward sounding. It was poignant and energetic, and I was sorry to see the set end (yet anticipating the second half of the program). The audience sure liked this set, cheering and standing for him.
In the second half, the eleventh prelude in B major really spoke to me. Its chordal nature was really appealing – different from the other preludes – and Boris played these chords with tender strength. There is a simplicity to this prelude, and the return to the theme was so nice and comforting. It is a real gem among gems.
The audience loved this program, were exuberant in their bravos, applause, and standing ovations. Boris played two encores, Scriabin’s Etude Op. 2 No. 1 in C-sharp minor and
Rachmaninov ‘s Etude-Tableau Op. 39 No. 6 in A minor (‘Red Riding Hood and the wolf’). This was a terrific Portland debut concert and we can’t wait to see Boris back for more performances.