A further dip into Sydney’s virtual competition


Day 3, Session 6

Sunday July 4, 2021

Rustam Muradov

One of a phalanx of Russian pianists in this competition. Muradov was yet another of the late entrants invited to participate after several successful applicants withdrew. He recorded this recital on March 20 in the Rodion Shchedrin Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, and was (inevitably) interviewed by Piers Lane before he started playing – yet another uncomfortable experience, although rather more relevant to the occasion than Lane’s discussion with a local piano tuner about previous competitions, a diversion which opened the session. I can see the point of such a chat in any year but this one where an Australian piano tuner has absolutely nothing to contribute to anything but the historical record.

Our artist began with a true rarity: the Op. 116 Fantasies by Brahms which nobody plays; they certainly haven’t during my years of concert/recital attendance and it’s not hard to understand why. They present problems in delivery, mainly to do with off-centre metre but also because of a dearth of melodic power and a penchant for deliberation which is rarely disrupted. Muradov set an excellent standard with the opening Capriccio, not making it easy for us but staying faithful to the piece’s characteristic syncopation. The player’s sensitivity emerged in the No. 2 Intermezzo with an obvious error at the top note of bar 15, but the Non troppo presto which kept to the original right hand lay-out came across with unexpected lucidity.

Some more obvious errors crept into the No. 3 Capriccio, specifically during the central Un poco meno Allegro; mainly finger slips and not detracting from a forward-thrusting account of these pages as a whole, followed by an excellent reprise. Muradov seemed much happier with his work in the following Intermezzo which is a pretty transparent piece and which here radiated security. Like the first in this set, the No. 5 Intermezzo has pretty much everything off-balance, metrically out-of-kilter, until the first double bar when the left hand imposes regularity. Here again, the pianist stayed loyal to the composer’s quirkiness. We could take pleasure in the excellent moulding of the G sharp minor middle pages of the No. 6 Intermezzo as also in the performer’s care with Brahms’ part-writing.

Finally, the No. 7 Capriccio featured more off-the-beat work after the first 10 bars; a challenging work to make coherent and Muradov played a good hand with its physical and harmonic urgency, only one noticeable error coming out 24 bars from the end. So, we heard an honest grappling with this rather enigmatic collection, even if my main impression was of hard work rather than comfortable achievement.

Then came a Haydn sonata, Hob XVI: 20 in C minor that we heard on he competition’s opening day. This was a quick version with no repeats but the rhythmic impulse stayed constant. The Moderato‘s delivery proved to be clear and expertly detailed, even if a note would occasionally go missing, as in the downward right-hand scale of bar 63. But the main feature was the regularity of delivery. A similar no-nonsense approach distinguished the Andante con moto, with a carefully aimed crescendo from bar 45 to bar 50. As for the Allegro ending, you could be happy with the small-scale sturm attack but, once again, not every note registered, even though you could see them being depressed.

Written for an earlier Sydney Competition (2012), Carl Vine’s Toccatissimo gave Muradov scope for virtuosity and histrionics; needless to say, he seized the opportunities with plenty of panache and an obvious relish in the piece’s many flourishes and idiosyncratic textural changes. And, as the prescribed encore, we heard Scarlatti in B minor K. 87, a well-judged companion piece with the preceding Australian work, thanks to its placid inevitability and the elegant lapidary shaping of phrase. No repeats here, either, which was disappointing, as were some imposed pauses and ritenuti – bars 29 and 54, for instance. Still, you have to make the best use of your 40-minute time-limit, as this pianist did to present a mini-recital with many fine pages. But were there enough?

Alexander Malikov

You see the name and think, “Another Russian?” but you’d be sort of wrong: since he was 10 years old, Malikov has called Canada home. This artist made his recording on April 4 at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto and Lane made much in his interview of how late this artist was drawn into the competition, actually entering after the cut-off time and imbibing a Vine bagatelle very quickly to have it off from memory as his compulsory acquaintance with musical Australiana.

Where Muradov ended with Scarlatti, Malikov began his submission with two of the sonatas. K 519 in F minor/Major distinguished itself for its impeccable ornamentation and articulation throughout, with both halves repeated. The K545 in B flat put the same precision on show although the player allowed himself some metrical easing across this Prestissimo‘s second half. An excellent interpretation, the sonata brought to mind Couperin’s Les Maillotins in its requirement for a sympathetic automatism which only faltered into a near-error at bar 62 where Scarlatti turns to settle into his home key.

Malikov followed his competition predecessor with Haydn, Hob XVI/50 in C Major, finding the optimistic bounce in the initial Allegro and making an attractive entity out of the movement, so that I was disappointed that the exposition was not repeated. Amid the genial flow, some clearly-stated brisk chords at bars 100-101 brought the development to an emphatic end, and we encountered two instances of ‘open pedal’ – which, it seems, allows the executant to keep the sustaining pedal down for the specified length.

Haydn’s Adagio is a whimsical set of pages, and Malikov brought a subtle happy calm to its apparent juxtaposition of slow arches and sudden bursts of irregularly-shaped action. Rather than becoming an eccentric hodge-podge, this movement was interpreted with a steady underpinning, the whole piece a slow-moving amble-with-diversions. You found plenty of surprises in the Allegro molto ending to this sonata, thanks to the pianist’s communication of sparkling humour, particularly in those frequent pauses that lead into bar after bar of headlong high spirits, e.g. bars 160 to 161.

Debussy’s Voiles prelude made an interesting choice, mainly because Malikov’s interpretation avoided self-indulgence but somehow impressed as four-square in its approach to the composer’s initial request for a rythme sans rigueur. Later, the bar 29 direction tres retenu made no difference to the prevailing approach of getting on with it all. As with everything this competitor essayed, the result was excellently articulated but these sails had a firm canvas fabric. Mind you, such metrical regularity served the young musician well in the following Liszt legende, St. Francois de Paule “marchant sur les flots”, the lashings of left-hand scales and arpeggios kept to a steady, firmly administered pulse. Here was a highly physical reading, Malikov entering into its blazing flamboyance with gusto, especially at the massive build-up from bar 78 to 85 that takes us into our saint’s buoyant triumph over the Strait of Messina, here given full heroic status.

Continuing the exhibition of technique came the Allegro de concierto by Granados where this performer responded with open hands to the work’s not-particularly-nationalistic opulence. This is a show-piece, one without higher pretensions to depth, and we enjoyed an expert rendition that kept a rein on its fits and starts. I welcomed the imposed rubato around the change in key signature to 5 sharps only and the elegant melodic outpouring when matters moved to G Major – and when the composer actually got on with the business of writing a discernible tune. Finally, Vine’s III. Gentle from the 5 Bagatelles was played with exemplary deliberation – no lingering over its textures but a clear outlining of the brief piece’s atmospheric delicacy.