Tag Archives: Boris Giltburg

East Neuk Festival (2)

The piano wove a binding thread through Friday’s and Saturday’s programming at last week’s East Neuk Festival. Not at the expense of the Festival’s wider chamber music focus, but nonetheless intriguing for its variously fashioned pianistic styles and interpretations. And that’s before East Neuk veteran Christian Zacharias made his appearance – one of his last public recitals before retirement from solo performance – on Sunday.

There was an aura of elder statesmanship accompanying the presence of septuagenarian Elisabeth Leonskaja, who starred in two recitals at Crail Church. One was collaborative, teaming up with Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman and French cellist Ivan Karizna; the other a musical soliloquy featuring the final three Piano Sonatas of Beethoven, a grouping that has been expounded brilliantly in recent years by Scots pianist Steven Osborne.

Those used to Osborne’s sublime sophistication and refined eloquence may have found the drier objectivity of Leonskaja’s Beethoven performances unyieldingly phlegmatic. Yes, she commands a focussed authority that approached its breeziest in the Sonata in E, Op 109, the lyrical expressiveness of the final variations a welcome antidote to the stormy Prestissimo, where Leonskaja’s tendency to thunder out octave bass lines first surfaced.

There was alternating distress and luminosity in the mood swings of the A flat Sonata, Op 110, rocked only by lyrical lines that sold short on silken sustainment. In the final C minor Sonata, Op 111, where the impetuosity of the opening movement found Leonskaja in comfortable territory, she most often internalised the emotional opportunities of the concluding variations, even the exuberance that lights up Beethoven’s before-its-time “boogie-woogie” moment.

That same note of reserve effected a stiffness in Schubert’s Trio no 2 in E flat in her collaboration with Ferschtman and Karizna, despite the constant promise of interactive flair and profusion of passion from the string players. 

The earlier part of that Friday recital opened our eyes to the playful duo compatibility of pianists Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy. Tasked with Schubert’s Allegro in A minor, D947, this proved to be a teasing aperitif to their own Saturday showcase programme, which culminated in the four hands version of Stravinsky’s famously paganistic The Rite of Spring.  

The route to the Stravinsky was just as tantalising, firstly in the mischievously physical and musical interplay of Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano 4 Hands, then in a cheeky alternating juxtaposition of Beethoven’s Op 45 Marches (like nuclear prototypes for his bigger symphonic creations) and several of Kurtag’s tongue-in-cheek piano sketches from his Jatekok series. One in particular of the Kurtag – a fitful “argument” over three simple chromatically-spaced notes – raised appreciative sniggers.

Then the main billing, A Rite of Spring that lacked none of the ritualistic venom, fiery virtuosity  and ballistic rhythmic edge normally associated with the full orchestral version. Tsoy and Kolesnikov invested infinite keyboard colour and energy in a performance that was thrillingly hyperactive and acutely precise. 

Boris Giltburg performed with the Pavel Haas Quartet | Neil Hanna Photography

A similar punctiliousness featured in the pianism of Boris Giltburg, whose Saturday evening programme in Crail with the Pavel Haas Quartet was a masterclass in musical synchronicity. They played two well-matched works from the golden days of European Romanticism, Brahms’ rigorously Germanic Piano Quintet in F minor, complemented perfectly by the Bohemian-scented Piano Quintet No 2 by Dvorak.

It was clear from the outset that mere routine was never on the cards. The Brahms opened teasingly slowly, but quickly accelerated into a slick and dramatically crafted performance, rich in texture and wholesome in scope. Giltburg integrated effortlessly with the off-the-shelf quartet, confidently initiating new directions where it mattered. The same unanimity of purpose brought instant warmth to the Dvorak, its fresher melodic invention a complementary foil to the solidness of the Brahms.

One other key event, a piano-less one on Friday at the Bowhouse near St Monans, focussed on a single masterpiece, Schubert’s substantial Octet, for which the Elias String Quartet teamed up with double bassist Philip Nelson and three highly-prized wind players, Alec Frank Gemmill (horn), Robert Pane (clarinet) and Robin O’Neill (bassoon). Neither the clattering above of a momentary downpour, nor the short while it took for the ensemble to calibrate as a homogenous unit, robbed this performance of its joyous thrills, nuanced generosity and internal cut and thrust. You come to East Neuk mostly for a core helping of mainstream chamber music. It rarely fails to deliver.

Ken Walton

Picture of Pavel Kolesnikov & Samson Tsoy by Neil Hanna Photography

East Neuk Festival (1)

Although most of its loyal audience comes to the East Neuk Festival to hear world-class performances of classical chamber music in beautiful, intimate acoustics – particularly some of the lovely churches in that corner of Fife – artistic director Svend McEwan-Brown has long since widened the scope of the event to embrace other spaces, outdoor events and contemporary and world music and jazz, and the audience has demonstrated an appetite for those as well.

And while it is a remarkable blessing that some of the first rank performances of the work of Czech composers by members of the Pavel Haas Quartet and pianist Boris Giltburg had previously been heard only by those attending the Prague Spring Festival, ticket-holders were also able to see and hear freshly-minted work make its first-ever appearance.

On Sunday afternoon, the repurposed agricultural shed near St Monans, the Bowhouse, hosted the largest number of musicians it saw over the course of the event when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra played the last of a run of four dates under the baton of its former principal bassoonist, Peter Whelan. For East Neuk they were joined by soprano Anna Dennis, singing two arias from Mozart’s opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, with the fullest expression of anguish (in Traurigkeit) and anger (Martern aller Artern). As in the two symphonies on either side of those songs, Haydn’s 82nd “The Bear” and Beethoven’s 8th, the balance in the room and the detail in the performances was superb, the singer and the wind soloists, of which Whelan was once a star member, on top form.

Early on Friday evening, however, the same space had proved just as appropriate for a unique combination of amplified music, juggling and dance under the title Light the Lights, a beautifully presented hour of the music of Bach, Steve Reich and Nico Muhly that was as much a feast for the eyes as the ears.

With the indisposition of guitarist Sean Shibe, the musical responsibility rested on the shoulders of violinist Benjamin Baker, who not only performed that wide compositional repertoire, but was the physical narrative guide through much of it, starting with a Bach-playing amble from the back of the hall that was impressive enough on its own.

Thereafter he was joined by six members of Gandini Juggling who gave visual expression to some of the compositional techniques used by Reich with clubs and balls moving through the air, in and out of synchronicity. At the conclusion of the performance they added a programmed lighting element to the mix for Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, using recorded music.

In between, the jugglers added solo work and a wry nod to Ligeti’s 100 metronomes while Baker played a movement of Reena Esmail’s Darshan and combined forces with dancer James Pett on an interpretation of Muhly’s A Long Line, for violin and electronics. Much of this had a “work in progress” feel to it, but the sense of being admitted to the creative process was the joy of it, especially with the expressive choreography of Pett, who has a hinterland of work with Richard Alston and Wayne McGregor.

Rihab Azar by Neil Hanna Photography

In Anstruther Town Hall on Friday evening, clarinettist Julian Bliss brought a whole suite of box-fresh arrangements by vibraphone player Lewis Wright that extended his jazz excursion into surprisingly contemporary areas. The advance publicity for the Hooray for Hollywood programme had suggested the group was following its acclaimed Gershwin programme with film music from the “Golden Age” of screen musicals. In fact some of the highlights of the set were from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the 2011 movie Midnight in Paris, which adapted Bechet and Django Reinhardt for modern ears. There were classics from the Great American Songbook as well, but Bliss and his cohorts produce a disciplined sound that is a long way from the pub trad band.

As far as East Neuk’s core activity is concerned, this was a year of great riches, with pianists Elisabeth Leonskaya, Pavel Kolesnikov, Samson Tsoy, Boris Giltburg and Christian Zacharias all featured. Leonskaya played Schubert Trios with violinist Liza Ferschtman and young cellist Ivan Karizna in which the beautiful tone of the latter was a discovery, while Kolesnikov and Tsoy explored the same composer’s writing for four hands.

Although no dedication was made, there was surely a nod towards the situation in Ukraine with the Pavel Haas Quartet prefacing its Kilrenny Church concert with Joseph Suk’s nationalist Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn, St Wenceslas. Followed by Korngold’s Quartet No 3 and Janacek’s “Intimate Letters”, this was the Pavel Haas on fertile home territory, the muscular playing of leader Veronika Jaruskova and cellist Peter Jarusek tempered by the newest recruit Luosha Fang, whose viola was so central to the latter.

In Crail Church, the violin and cello couple were joined by Giltburg for two Dvorak trios: the 1876 No 2 is more conventional but less often heard and the 1891 No 4 “Dumky” was given a beautifully-shaped performance, with a particularly memorable steady pulse in the fourth movement. The same venue saw the full quartet joined by Giltburg to play piano quintets of Brahms and Dvorak, as featured on their acclaimed Supraphon recordings.

It is St Ayle Church in Anstruther that often houses other steps away from the mainstream at East Neuk, and it was home this year to the virtuosic oud player Rihab Azar. Combining with bassist Dudley Phillips and percussionist Beth Higham-Edwards, she provided a whistle-stop tour of the contemporary chamber music of Egypt, Iran and her native Syria in a refreshing and relaxing Sunday lunchtime recital that was in some ways a bridge between the core canon of East Neuk and the festival’s more radical exploratory side.

Keith Bruce

Picture of Gandini Juggling by Neil Hanna

RSNO Berglund/Giltburg

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

With Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, we’re not in the 18th century anymore, Toto. This is both literally true – the composer began it in 1800 and it was first performed in 1803 – and in terms of the development of music. Although the piano concertos on either side may be considered in pairs, the Third is less a transitional work than the start of the revolution (to borrow the word the RSNO used for its Beethoven 250 strand) that found symphonic form in the Eroica.

The RSNO has its ideal partner for it in the dynamic and intelligent soloist with whom they have recorded Rachmaninov, Boris Giltburg, and the conductor was also to have been the same – Carlos Miguel Prieto. When he was unable to travel as a result of the current restrictions, the orchestra turned to a young Norwegian, Tabita Berglund, who only completed her Masters in orchestral conducting last year.

The reason may be very 2020, and another headache for orchestra managers to deal with, but such last minute replacements are by no means unusual, and this concert may have been the point where this “digital” season stepped up to take its place alongside the pantheon of “live” RSNO programmes – because it will be the one where we first met Berglund.

Not only was this her debut with the RSNO, it was the first time she had conducted the Beethoven concerto, and although she deferred to her soloist in her introductory remarks, there was nothing reserved in her clear, expansive, but detailed, style. In those same remarks she memorably described the work as “neither fish not bird” but she had the shape of the piece very clearly defined, and – although the start of the finale is the home of its big tune – the central Largo pinned as probably the composer’s most beautiful writing for piano and orchestra. This team performed it exquisitely.

After a very generous “encore” of the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 (presumably coming soon in Giltburg’s recordings for Naxos), the programme moved to more familiar ground for young Berglund. Crucially, however, if Sibelius 7 is music she knows intimately, it is also, thanks to Alexander Gibson, in the blood of the RSNO. This change of programme was a real bonus that would surely have been cheered to the rafters had audiences been able to hear it. Berglund’s understanding of how the orchestra was this composer’s instrument, and this work the pinnacle of that relationship, was palpable from the start.

With the three trombones providing the crucial supporting architecture of the flow of Sibelius’s precise use of the forces at his disposal, this was big music for these diminished times, powerful and full of emotion. 

Once again, the RSNO’s online presentation, directed here by Jack Hunter, and with crucial vocal contributions from the players, was first class. There were some beautifully placed fixed cameras for the concerto, and the balance, while unlike anything a ticket-holder would hear anywhere in the Usher or Glasgow Royal Concert Halls, was also quite vibrantly distinct from anything you might expect of a studio recording.
Keith Bruce

Image: Tabita Berglund conducts the RSNO at the RSNO Centre, Glasgow