Gavrylyuk’s virtuosity stupefies even fellow musicians in marathon Saturday Concert
Guest review by John Chacona
Sitting in the second row of the near-capacity house was a young woman wearing a blue T-shirt with the sign of the horns (the gesture the cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-head were known for) and the legend “You Rachmaninoff.”
Alexander Gavrylyuk certainly rocked the Amphitheater Wednesday evening with Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30.
That program ended with Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition,” one of the most formidable pieces in the solo piano repertoire. “Rach 3,” as it’s known in piano circles, has a similar reputation among concertos. Put into perspective, Gavrylyuk’s feat is akin to running a marathon in the most intense heat, then entering a triathlon three days later.
On the evidence, Gavrylyuk must do this sort of thing all the time. He sailed through the concerto’s manifold challenges in a reading that crackled with urgency and never felt slack. This is a big, sprawling work — episodic, even — and it can seem long on the best of nights. But Gavrylyuk and conductor Elizabeth Schulze delivered a taut, committed performance in which every phrase mattered.
Those phrases were typically long-breathed in Gavrylyuk’s hands, but they were also shrewdly balanced to make poetic sense yet never lingered over the beautiful details that are everywhere in this 42-minute-long score. Schulze, making her Amp debut, breathed Gavrylyuk’s phrasing with remarkable unanimity and got a fine, dark sound from the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra players.
Those players seemed as enthralled by Gavrylyuk’s wizardry as the audience; the violin section seated behind him watched with rapt attention during his solo passages.
In turn, Gavrylyuk, a small man with the wiry build of a gymnast — or a marathon runner — was an orchestra unto himself, pouring out waves of huge, carillon-like sound that at times overwhelmed the orchestra. In the loudest passages, he made the Steinway bounce on its cradle.
This was a sensational performance in every way. When the audience leapt to their feet before the final note died away, one could almost imagine them reaching for their lighters in the gesture of stadium concert approval; the moment was that electrifying.
The momentum of the Rach 3 rather upstaged the evening’s first half, though there was nothing wrong with Schulze’s performances of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D, K.504, which featured outstanding work by the winds, and of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture, which opened the evening. But it’s telling that what remained in memory was the little figure in the overture’s middle section that reappeared verbatim in the D-major rush to the finish of Rachmaninoff’s concerto.
It was like watching a runner sprinting through the tape, and given the night’s (hell, the week’s) exertions, one had to wonder if Gavrylyuk would have enough left in the tank for the encores that the adoring, seat-banging audience was demanding.
He had enough for two.
Mozart’s Rondo in D-major, K.485 was jewel-like and perfectly articulated, the sound of grateful nature after a thunderstorm. In many ways, the “Wedding March” from Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” incidental music was the most remarkable pianism of the night. Vladimir Horowitz’s contrafact on Liszt’s arrangement was designed to dazzle, and it did its job well. I noticed a violinist in the last row of the firsts watching Gavrylyuk with a stupefied expression.
She couldn’t have been alone.
John Chacona is a freelance writer for the Erie Times-News.