Entering its second decade, the show complements the spring festival and focuses purely on piano playing performed by various virtuosos. Of course, everyone invited had technique, excellent hitting and expression this year as well. Yet their personalities differed. Who impressed the most?
With immediacy, sensitivity and grace, the Russian Denis Kožuchin in the program, which he called Devilish and divine. By this he meant the combination of Franz Liszt in his various forms, be it the late serious compositions, the lovely God’s Blessing in Solitude or the Sonata in B minor, with György Ligeti, or rather his composition Devil’s Staircase.
Ligeti is a classic of the 20th century, and with this composition, which is part of the Études cycle, he subtly evokes the impression of a truly infernal slide up and down. However, Kožuchin was able to move with ease on the slippery stairs and led the audience over them with ease.
On the other hand, when the famous Pole Piotr Anderszewski came on stage and started playing, there was a feeling of a kind of lofty insight and contemplation. The renowned pianist played compositions by two of his favorite authors, in this case Bach Partita No. 6 and Beethoven Sonata No. 31.
He covered two works from the world of 20th century modernism with them – a selection from Karol Szymanowski’s Mazurekas, which are a kind of modern continuation of Chopin, and Variations for piano by Anton Webern. It was an evening of soulful dialogue between old and new masters – after all, Anderszewski symbolically “connected” Beethoven to Webern without any pause.
With Beethoven, the 75-year-old Czech representative at this year’s event, the virtuoso Ivan Klánský, performed at a still high level, and in the first half of the evening he performed his Six Variations for Piano and Sonata No. 32. Still a firm touch and a feeling of strength that comes from within and is not delivered externally, it deserves respect.
In the second half, he was joined by his son, also a valued pianist Lukáš, and together they performed the second movement of Dvořák’s Slavic Dances as a four-hander. It was a pleasant listen, although it was clear that the son was playing with more energy, so the result was more reminiscent of well-practiced family music making than a cohesive interpretation.
But perhaps this impression arose because the concert followed the performance of Dutch sibling duo Lucas and Arthur Jussen, who opened the festival. The latter specializes in joint play, the two young men have been playing together since childhood and have reached a phenomenal level. At the festival, they alternately played two pianos facing each other and one piano four-handed.
They demonstrated their art in a wide range from Mozart’s light, transparent Sonata for two pianos in D major, through Schubert’s Rondo in A major, no less sensitively played, to two extremely demanding and effective numbers: La valse by Maurice Ravel and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. It was a performance reminiscent of keyboard acrobatics at times, but thankfully far from a first-rate exhibition.
In both cases, these were piano versions signed by the composers themselves, i.e. Ravel and Stravinsky respectively. The brothers’ interplay, precision and memory were simply astounding. Especially with Stravinsky, there was no self-serving roaring from the stage, on the contrary, the brothers managed to imitate the orchestral colors brilliantly in this as well as in Ravel’s work.
If any concert was accompanied by certain embarrassment, then the recital of the young pianist from Lithuania Anna Geniushen. It was held in the afternoon and, unlike the other pianists, not in the Rudolfinum, but in Martinů Hall at HAMU. When listening to a varied program consisting of music by seven authors, including, for example, Tchaikovsky or Schumann, one appreciated the pianist’s virtuosity and energy, but her liveliness and vigor seemed to come at the expense of depth and were directed towards external flamboyance. The two sonatas by Sergei Prokofiev “took it away” the most, which sounded quite hard and noisy.
But perhaps the overall impression was influenced by a different space and a different piano than what one is used to from the Rudolfinum. In any case, the Rudolf Firkušný Piano Festival already has a firm place in Prague’s musical life.