Key players: a feast for piano fans in Lucerne and Dublin
In a single week, it was possible to hear two Dublin International Piano Competition winners playing Chopin’s ‘Études’
Alexej Gorlatch: expanding the scale of his music-making
The opportunity was too good to miss. When I was invited to spend a few days in Lucerne for its piano festival, I realised that the festival’s Debut strand included a concert by Alexej Gorlatch, 2009 winner of the Dublin International Piano Competition. This was in the same week that Nikolay Khozyainov, the 2012 winner, was beginning his nine-venue Music Network tour. The prospect was made especially tantalising by the fact that both players’ programmes included complete performances of Chopin’s Études, Op 10.
Lucerne’s celebration of the piano and its music began in 1998 as a four-day event. This year it ran for nine days, with a line-up that included Evgeny Kissin (in recital and concerto), Fazil Say, Gabriela Montero, Murray Perahia, Kirill Gerstein (a Dublin competition finalist in 2000) and Maurizio Pollini, as well as masterclasses and talks.
The festival spreads its wings through the city, with a team of pianists giving off-stage jazz performances in bars and restaurants, as well as in the festival’s main venue, the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL), which is picturesquely perched on the edge of lake Lucerne. This year the venue’s foyer boasted a Ferrari- red Steinway concert grand with matching stool, as a clear message that classical was not the festival’s only flavour.
The Debut concerts take place in the city’s Lukaskirche, a clean-lined modern church with seating, on two levels, for about 500. For a piano, the sound is warm and full, with a strength in the bass and an overall amplitude that are not features of the acoustically chillier and brighter National Concert Hall here at home. The sound in the main hall of the KKL is similarly luxuriant, but with better clarity.
The impression I have of Gorlatch from Lucerne is that he is expanding the scale of his music-making, and at times bringing a magnifying glass effect to bear on the music to make his interpretative points. In Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata (Op 31, No 2), it was as if he were taking the listener aside at key moments for a layer of extra explanation, and his handling of a set of Schubert dances (D783) seemed also to shy away from directness of delivery.
He is a super pianist, and the ideas he presented in both Beethoven and Schubert were always interesting. It just felt as if everything was not yet fully integrated.
His Chopin Études, on the other hand, were a knockout, pure and simple, musically thoughtful, technically masterful.
Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, who will make her Dublin debut with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in Liszt’s Second Concerto on February 28th, played Bach (the Partita in A minor), Schumann (the Humoreske) and Rachmaninov (the Corelli Variations and a handful of Études-tableaux) in the grand manner. The Bach playing was so fluid that at times it seemed almost anchorless, a tonally alluring counterpoint that somehow lacked clarity of outline. It was the kind of Bach you might remember from a dream: magical, mysterious, not quite real.
Arghamanyan is a player of exceptional facility, getting around the keyboard with grace at astonishing velocity, and always conjuring unexpected colours, as if the idea of playing anything in the most direct way would be deadly boring. She was at her best in the Rachmaninov variations, a work written expressly for the kind of virtuoso technique that she so clearly knows how to use with breathtaking results.