Concert in Cyprus (Schumann / Prokofiev)

Andrei Gavrilov
First time in Cyprus
Performing 23th of September 2017
Pattihio Municipal Theatre Limassol, Cyprus
“Best of romance and best of 20 century Russians”.

Despite the fact that “Butterflies” is only the second opus of Schumann, in this small carnival – Schumann’s favorite musical-theatrical form – the inner world of one of the purest and outspoken romantic composers is already visible. In the kaleidoscopic change of moods and characters, Schumann manages to express his philosophical thoughts, along with the sensuous inner world. The musical language of Schumann is so expressive that listening to this small work, one can quite fully recognize Schumann as composer and as a person.

“Symphonic Etudes” is the highest point of composers’ skill in form and content. The theme and eleven variations with a grand finale is a monument to 19th century European romanticism in music. Schumann achieved in this work an amazing perfection in polyphony, artistic musical art, expressiveness and orchestral piano sound. The name – “Symphonic etudes” – is completely justified by skill, clarity of presentation and extraordinary fullness of sound. Each phrase of this remarkable work is associated with the sound of a symphony orchestra. Each musical idea is technically outlined in the most refined and elegant piano techniques. Throughout this “piano symphony”, the piano is used with the greatest possible technical complexity, requiring the highest expert skill (transcendental skills) of a pianist. Inspired and masterful performance of “Symphonic Studies” can become a real spiritual enlightening, deep and positive lifetime experience.

Prokofiev 8 sonata

This work perhaps is the greatest of Prokofiev’s piano sonatas and is by far his most tragic.
In contrast to that of the Seventh Sonata the first movement of the Eighth develops in a more orderly manner. I envisage Prokofiev acting as a kind of chronicler who cleverly, yet with a slightly aloof air, relates “The Time of Troubles”. I cannot escape the association with holy man Pimen, the pious old monk and industrious historian who proves to be the nemesis of Boris in Boris Godunov. The motif of Fate clearly appears here with the shifting of d- c sharp (a minor ninth); at the same time this motif is contrasted with one of “mourning” – an entreaty or a symbol of grief before the inevitability of Fate. In the development section the bass themes – quite characteristic of the personification of “Mother Russia” – “document” the people’s way of life. It is as if she were secretly evolving from pandemonium and chaos and making herself felt everywhere. All this culminates in a fantastic emotional outburst: a great wail escapes from wounded (perhaps fatally wounded) Russia. The leitmotif of Fate reaches the limit of sound, and as the final chord in the sequence of eight completes the development section, one is overwhelmed by an image of a dying colossus which tries to raise itself but crashes to the ground. A fantastically tragic picture! The generally peaceful author sections of the movement provide a frame for the frightening images of the middle section, although the first movement still ends with dislocated, chaotic material.

I find the second movement, Andante sognando, one of the most enigmatic. Prokofiev verges on parody by introducing lighthearted and pleasant variations, almost a second voice, with clear irony and sarcasm (perhaps self-irony?), and a kind of mocking levity within a pseudo-serious fugato. All this leads me to suspect that Prokofiev here is speaking ironically about himself; or else he is letting his mind and thoughts run free and is lost in nostalgia for the bygone, carefree days of his youth.

The third movement sharply contrasts with all this, and we return to the dramatic conflict with wild and barbarous reality. From the first note we come face to face with chaos and the verge of destruction. The contrasting middle section, though, is in itself still a grimace at totalitarianism. Once again the Kafkaesque machine methodically devours all living things. The pure sounds from the Pioneers’ horns are transformed into pulsating tyrannical blasts. In contrast to the finale of the Seventh Sonata, the drama here is more intense. The killing machine gradually fades into the background, and we hear echoes from the first movement. The themes of Fate and entreaty reappear, and the middle section ends with an amazing passage of tender, unresolved (irresoluto) and delicate music. The chronicler and the artist steps back, and I hear a lost, suffering man begging God for salvation. Prokofiev has seldom opened his soul in such a way. The finale concludes with another deluge of aggression which leads to apotheosis in the coda. At this moment of heightened confusion and madness we hear the heavy tread of Bolshevik boots; in the upper register the false and feverish fanfare continues to cry out. Thus frightening image is crowned with a sudden drop over a precipice away from all Bacchanalia and diabolical jubilation in B major. We end with a sudden return to stark reality. After a short pause we sober up to B minor and in the remaining sharp and brisk flashes I hear the verdict and the curse.”

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