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Gavrylyuk performance with the CSO 'sensation of the season'

Monday, July 16, 2007 The Chautauquan Daily


by Chuck Klaus


The sensationally gifted pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk has become the sensation of this season’s Chautauqua Festival. His playing of the first Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto created an audience reaction seldom experienced. It was certainly one of the most gripping performances of the work live or recorded this reviewer has ever encountered.

....Poor Schubert, even at his most heavenly length, wouldn’t have stood a chance compared to the excitement created by Gavrylyuk. His playing of the Tchaikovsky, that much beloved and abused warhorse of a concerto, was revelatory both in terms of the rendering of musical content and of the astounding keyboard technique of this young soloist. From the first beefy sounds conjured by the Chautauqua Symphony and answered in kind by Gavrylyuk, it was clear that this was to be a powerful, focused and extremely expressive account of the work. From the pianist a rather elegant phrasing in the early passages, coupled with an extreme sensitivity to dynamics, assured listeners that this was to be no mere virtuoso display opportunity. Superb technique and dramatic musicality exist in Gavrylyuk in equal measures. Also quickly apparent was the rainbow of tone color this pianist could summon from the instrument. Passagework was rapid and delicate, yet flavored with a pellucid sonority that most pianists couldn’t conjure even at adagio pace. Gavrylyuk could also thunder, imparting a buzzing character to some of his heavier left-hand work. For expressive purposes, his tone varied from hard as nails to a silky sonority, with many stops in between — all of these hues laid on in accordance with the emotions dictated by the Tchaikovsky composition.


The first movement placed grand utterance next to joyous scampering. When it concluded, the Chautauqua audience let fly not with applause, but rather with a collective gasp at what they had just heard. The second movement’s dreamy initial state was interlaced with a scherzo-like midsection that sizzled, and the final movement, while possessing great energy and velocity, never descended to the level of a mere flat-out race. There was an overall shape, clarity and a noticeable felicity for polished phrasing and dynamics, even at warp speed.

Segal and the Chautauqua group were with Gavrylyuk every step of the way, with the conductor animating and balancing with great skill, and the orchestra responding with clean, full sound that never overpowered the soloist. At the end of the concerto the audience shot to their feet virtually in unison, and cheers, yells and bravos abounded. The pianist responded with a bow, his hand laid across his heart, and then offered two encores — an inspired and technically staggering performance of the Horowitz-like transcription by Volodos of Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca (the mid-piece counterpoint had the effect of a gifted two pianist performance) and the little Mozkowski gem Étincelles, played with high technical polish and teasing wit. Trying to convey the flavor of Gavrylyuk’s performance style without mentioning a few other performers is difficult. He does not take after any single “great pianist” as much as he combines some of the best characteristics of several keyboard titans. In his command of instrumental color, he seems a throwback to the golden age pianists in the first half of the 20th century. His technique and uncanny ability to articulate at quick tempi put one in mind of the legendary Simon Barere, although Gavrylyuk shows considerably more restraint in his tempo choices. One thing seems certain: We will continue to hear great things from Alexander Gavrylyuk.

Was this a performance without a flaw? Not quite. Gavrylyuk’s technique is so absorbing that it creates a bit of a challenge in focusing on the content of the music at hand. This, however, is not so much a fault of the pianist as it is of the stunned auditor. One also might be persnickety enough to note a few fluffed left-hand notes in the early goings-on of the concerto, but as was said about another instrumentalist many years ago, “Why look for spots on the Sun?” In terms of his stage demeanor, Gavrylyuk was involved, genial and earnest. Occasionally, a beatific look flashed over his face; at other times he beamed with glee at what he was achieving. In no case was there a hint that these were actorly elements imposed upon a performance —a performance feature one could happily do without, and unfortunately a near constant in some of the virtuosos currently on the concert trail. Rather, one felt refreshed at being in the presence of a pianist who was genuinely enjoying his powers at the keyboard.

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