Our latest concert criticism concerns American pianist Stephen Kovacevich (also known as Stephen Bishop), who gave a concert in the Musis Sacrum in Arnhem on December 10th. Two friends went to listen to him on that evening with high expectations, but, unfortunately, left dissatisfied.
The pianist performed Beethoven’s Op.10/1 Sonate in c, the nr.4 Partita (BWV 828) by J.S.Bach and Schubert’s nr.21 Sonate, but their impression was as if the concert consisted of only pieces by Bach. The artist’s rendering of the different pieces lacked colour and emotion, while his Bach also lacked the necessary clarity of expression and even precision of tempo. The pianist’s performance on that evening lacked credibility.
They found it a sorry sight that such a famed pianist may encounter such a dreary patch at a concert. They also found it unfortunate that they vitnessed his bad day.
Our following critique is a translation of the opinion of a couple of our friends who went to the Opera House in Budapest to see Rigoletto on 10th Nov.
Unfortunately, they came away with a feeling that could at best be described as mixed. Initially, they found the choir and singers really bored, lazy and unenthusiastic, the singing and movement disorganized. This may not have been true for all singers, as, for example, Kertesi Ingrid received praise for her voice and charm. Unfortunately, they felt her to be a bit over-age for her role, which somewhat disturbed the joy of listening to her.
After the interval, the troupe seemed to be revitalized, very possibly by the scolding they must have received by the director. Even so, the impression was of a level that we were not accustomed to a few decades ago. There seem to be a lack of young, up-coming local talent available as they referred to an earlier performance of Madama Butterfly, in which the image of Pinkerton was distorted by the seriously overweight 70-year-old singer in the role. As can be seen in our presentation of the programme in Budapest, there are several guest singers with various productions. Although Russian singers have a very good reputation, just like Hungarian singers, those coming to sing in Budapest may not belong to the top.
We must express our regret that Hungary is not capable of luring and keeping the best that are so professionally brought up there, or would like and are able to sing at the best opera houses.
Lots of great piano concerts can be heard the world over, whether live, or on CD’s, or on the internet, but rarely are we exposed to such an overwhelming impression of intense emotions and power as at the concert on the evening of 1st October at the Musis Sacrum in Arnhem. That night, we were fortunate to attend the first concert in the local series “Meesters van het klavier”, which was given by one of the most promising young pianists of our generation, Denis Kozhukhin, Russian pianist, winner of several competitions, the latest of which was the first prize of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Concours in Brussels in 2010.
I personally am not a fan of Haydn’s piano sonatas, but with the warm, romantic feelings added to the classical precision, the performer won me over. The playful humanity of Haydn was shining brightly with intimacy this time.
From then on, Denis Kozhukhin must have blown away any doubts that he is already one of the greats. His performance combined power with softness, technical brilliance with the whole spectrum of human feelings, showing all variation between soft tranquilty and explosive passion in Brahms’ first sonata and the seven pieces he chose from the “12 Études d’exécution transcendante’ by Liszt. He performed without any extravaganza, but let the audience witness the highest quality of music-making. His simplicity of demeanor underlined his concentration on the best in all music.
His performance was never rushed. Instead, we had the impression that he often preferred to stay on the slow side of possibilities without giving up anything from brilliance. His forming the musical archs of thought was clear and spaced out, letting the audience contemplate between what has been and what is coming. And while many young performers would choose bravura pieces for encore, he chose a slow, song-like prelude from Bach’s Wohltemperierte Clavier and Busoni’s beautiful transcription of a Bach chorale. A devotee of the highest quality in music.
Whether he will really become one of the greatest of the greats is to be seen, but he has definitely enchanted his audience at the concert hall in the manner of his predecessors at the Queen Elizabeth: Gilels, Ashkenazy, Lazar Berman, Malcolm Frager, Mogilevsky, Nikolai Petrov, Anton Kuerti, or Ekaterina Novitskaya. We wish him all the best. We’d like to listen to him live for lots of years coming.
First concert seen in Arnhem
On 14th March 2011 we took part in a fabulous concert at the Musis Sacrum in Arnhem, the Netherlands, which many of you may be sorry to have missed. One of the best Hungarian pianists for the last couple of decades, Zoltán Kocsis, accompanied rising international star violinist from Hungary, Barnabás Kelemen.
The concert started with Debussi’s Sonate in g in excellent taste. It was followed by perhaps the most outstanding performance of the first violin sonata by Bartók that I’ve ever heard for decades. The duo played high drama with shocking force and clarity, and proved, at least for me, that Kocsis is the best Bartók performer of our time, and that Kelemen’s rising international fame is highly deserved – his talent and musical understanding matches the doubtless greatness of Kocsis.
After the interval, an beautiful performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata capped a magical evening.
If any of you could find an opportunity the listen to a concert by these two great musicians, try not to miss it. We highly recommend them to the connoisseur.