Los Angeles Music Review: BEHZOD ABDURAIMOV & EDO DE WAART (LA Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on April 22, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


I am happy to say my instincts were correct: When pianist Behzod Abduraimov appeared in his Disney Hall debut as a last-minute replacement in 2014, I knew he was the real thing. They don’t appear often, these fresh-to-the-scene soloists who completely enrapture — those who combine the old-school magnetic quality of superlative technique with energetic experimentation, soul, and discovery. That October night, Abduraimov offered a white-knuckle, pulsating performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a notoriously demanding piano score with many rhythmic challenges.


Last night, the Uzbek pianist, who was born in Tashkent in 1990 just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, again brought a sense of his own personal reformation and combined it with the majesty and power of the classical Russian spirit. Except this time the composer was French.


When the great Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein came to Paris in the spring of 1868 to perform in a series of concerts with Camille Saint-Saëns conducting, Saint-Saëns found the perfect opportunity to impress the public with another remarkable musical feat. Rubinstein decided it would be fun to round off his trip with a role reversal: he would make his Parisian conducting debut with Saint-Saëns at the piano and Saint-Saëns had just 17 days to write a new concerto for the occasion. The Concerto in G minor was premiered as planned just three weeks later to huge critical acclaim, particularly for Saint-Saëns’ facility at the keyboard in what is an especially virtuosic work and one of Saint-Saëns’ most witty and imaginative.


Perhaps it was the Russian influence on Saint-Saëns, but his Piano Concerto No 2 was extraordinarily well-suited to Abduraimov’s temperament. The romance, wit, passion, and declaration was just the beginning. The interchange between orchestra and pianist could have been tighter: Conductor Edo de Waart kept the young pianist from increasing his tempo. Nonetheless, Abduraimov’s attack on the trills was thrilling, and he ran through the arpeggios as if he were skipping rocks on the water. His playing was full of attack where required, but also sincere and emotional in the concerto’s more tranquil passages, especially the moody, bittersweet opening passage. I had no sense of him showing off; indeed, his untucked dark brown shirt could have been his outfit in your living room. You could sense the entire hall rooting for him. Sadly, the applause petered out quickly, so no encore.


It was also refreshing to have a John Adams’ work that was far more accessible than last weekend’s program with Scheherezade.2. The 1985 The Chairman Dances is so busy evoking a Hitchcockian thriller that it felt more like a seven-course appetizer for Abduraimov. The thrilling orchestrations were impeccably played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so the jaunty chases, slinky criminals, and lush romanticism shone through. And unlike the jarring segues in Scheherezade.2, these all made sense.


Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony was not the pastoral thrill it could have been. At 40 minutes, this particular piece was a strange selection after the fiery Saint-Saëns. The outstanding solo work by Burt Hara on clarinet was a showcase of its own; the players blended astoundingly well, and the affair was recording worthy — except for de Waart’s tempo. You don’t get any more Romantic than the Third Symphony, but it felt draggy, and definitely needed more muscle. De Waart is only four years older than Adams, who conducted last week, but their energy is worlds apart. So the Scottish was a bit of a slog, I can think of worse respites. Anyway, the evening was all about Abduraimov and I look forward to next year and possibly a recital from the young master. You have 2 more chances this weekend. Go.

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Edo de Waart, guest conductor
Behzod Abduraimov, piano
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
ends on April 24, 2016
for future events, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil
for more info, visit Behzod Abduraimov

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