Egorov displays bravura and eccentricity at Miami Piano Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Leonid Egorov performed Saturday night at the Miami International Piano Festival.

Leonid Egorov performed Saturday night at the Miami International Piano Festival.

Leonid Egorov is an unconventional pianist.

The young Russian made his American debut Saturday night in the Miami International Piano Festival’s Discovery Series with a nearly three-hour marathon performance at the Colony Theater. Egorov has made a specialty of improvising around familiar compositions, particularly from the 19th century.

Unlike Gabriela Montero or Charlie Albright, he does not pull off stunts with the audience calling out tunes, keys or chords, and Egorov’s reinventions proved consistently imaginative. Still, the program’s most impressive moments came with two sonatas and two beautiful vignettes, played without any additional embellishment.

Egorov has a gargantuan technique. He can play at extremes of speed and volume without ever missing a note. He is also an unabashed showman, at times grinning to the audience or almost rising from the keyboard as he plays. One can easily imagine him appearing on American television talk shows. Yet, beneath all the flamboyance, Egorov is a sensitive musician with interesting interpretive instincts.

Chopin’s Sonata No. 2  opened with  bold strokes but Egorov exhibited flexibility, allowing the second theme  space for lyrical contrast. Even as Egorov’s hands moved across the keyboard at lightning speed near the end of the first movement, every note was clear and perfectly placed. There was plenty of fire in the Scherzo with the opening rumbles sounding truly demonic. In the famous funeral march, Egorov shaped the melodies in a long arc, avoiding prosaic heaviness. The big climaxes were felt as well as heard with visceral impact in the “wind over the graves” finale. He held the final note with the pedal, the sound effectively fading away.

Right at the start of Chopin’s Berceuse in D-flat Major, Egorov momentarily stopped when a door in the hall loudly clanged shut, breaking his concentration. (If audiences members have an emergency that causes them to leave in mid-performance, can’t they do so quietly with respect for the artists?) Returning to this lovely miniature, his pianissimos and trills were exquisite. The hazy harmonies and splashes of color in Debussy’s L’isle Joyeuse were realized with almost symphonic sonorities.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21 (“Waldstein”) was classically scaled. Alert to period conventions, Egorov gave a light and rhythmically exact reading of the first movement with finely terraced dynamics. The mystery of the  Adagio introduction to the finale was potently conveyed with gradations of soft tones. Taken at a spacious tempo, the final Rondo emerged buoyant and full of life.

Egorov’s own embellished version of Mahler’s piano transcription of the first-movement “Trauermarsch” from his Symphony No. 5 was Lisztian in grandeur and pyrotechnical display. Against all musical odds, it succeeded in purely pianistic terms. Egorov captured the clipped rhythm of a funeral cortege. At times barely audible, his sound turned on a dime from seductive to thunderous without attempting to imitate Mahler’s orchestral timbres.

Despite plenty of pianistic fireworks, Egorov’s combination of Mozart’s Fantasy in D minor and Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 4 (Mazeppa) did not really work but his edition of Busoni’s Carmen Fantasy was a stunner. He tore through the knuckle-busting octaves in high gear and turned the Habanera into a grim foreboding of tragedy.

In two Rachmaninoff preludes (C-sharp minor and G minor), Egorov avoided the tendency to play these chestnuts at one unvarying dynamic level. Liszt’s La Campanella was treated to additional variations and, as an encore, Egorov added glissandos and pyrotechnics to the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in a wild, folk-infused version. But who wants to hear tame Liszt? A larger audience than at previous festival performances awarded Egorov repeated standing ovations. While he may be eccentric, his musicianship cannot be underestimated.

The Miami International Piano Festival concludes 7 p.m. Sunday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach with an evening of opera arias and piano transcriptions featuring soprano Eglise Gutierrez, members of the vocal studio of Manny Perez and pianists Kemal Gekic and Francesco Libetta. miamipianofest.com; 305-434-7091.

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One Response to “Egorov displays bravura and eccentricity at Miami Piano Festival”

  1. Posted May 17, 2015 at 2:20 pm by Mark Patrick

    Egorov’s recital was a riveting experience. I enjoyed the program which embraced eras and diversity. He’s charming in addition to being a brilliant musician. At one point he grabbed his concert program to make sure he was in the right spot and not going to play the wrong piece. The audience laughed and Mr. Egorov smiled broadly, as if to confirm we mattered. Such a refreshing classical musician and such beautiful music from this mad Russian!

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Sun May 17, 2015
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