To hear one of Chopin’s four ballades in a recital is thrilling.
To hear all four is, well, almost unheard of.
Which is why the audience at Sunday’s Arizona Friends of Chamber Music Piano and Friends recital at Leo Rich Theatre seemed on the edge of their seats even before Behzod Abduraimov took the stage. And after each ballade, they burst into a chorus of bravos and applause — a few people even whistled — that was, for the most part, uncharacteristic for a Friends chamber concert.
In addition to the four ballades, the Uzbekistani pianist closed the concert with a piece that is arguably even more of a challenge: Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit.”Ravel’s “Gaspard de la nuit,”
If the four ballades one after another is a marathon, the Ravel is the Ironman.
Abduraimov brought an intuitive sensitivity to both works, performing with ballet-like elegance, wonderful timing and an artistic maturity that belied his 24 years.
The Chopin calls for some amazing pianistic acrobatics, with Abduraimov crossing his left hand over his right with deft precision during slower passages and then with unimaginable fluidity when the tempo rushed. Even in the most frenzied passages of Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major and the even more demanding No. 4 in F minor, he never fell into the trap of pounding on the keys. Instead, he brought out the urgency with measured intensity. Each note he struck had a distinctive voice that melted into this wonderful chorus.
During the Ravel, the audience did not interrupt each movement with applause. Instead, they held their breath waiting for Abduraimov to reach the third movement Scarbo, the pinnacle of his 90-minute recital. It’s a devilishly hard movement. Tempos change and moods alter from jazzy melancholy to Beethoven-like bombastic passages. Abduraimov’s fingers flew up and down the keys with such speed they seemed almost a blur from the audience. He criss-crossed his hands, left over right, with a fluid motion that never got tangled; in fact, he was so much in control that at one point he wiped his upper lip with a finger in between key strokes.
Abduraimov sandwiched the Chopin and Ravel with an impressive performance of Schubert's Impromptu No. 3 and No. 2.