Behzod Abduraimov - Debussy - Chopin - Mussorgsky - Europadisc

The Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov might be in just his thirtieth year, but he has already attracted attention and high praise, not least for his performances of Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky concertos. Now, for his first solo recital with the Alpha label, he demonstrates his disarming maturity in a collection of three well-known cycles of miniatures. Abduraimov views the disc as ‘a kaleidoscope of human emotions and images’, and they do indeed encompass a huge variety of moods and pictures. What is so marvellous about these performances, however, is the way they relate the individual movements – some barely half-a-minute long – to the whole, with each work describing a seemingly organic musical arc.

Abduraimov opens with a performance of Debussy’s much-loved Children’s Corner suite that seems bathed in the well-defined sepia tones of an adult’s nostalgia for childhood. The way he sinks gently into the opening notes of the first movement, ‘Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum’, immediately draws the listener in (a knack that Abduraimov has in all three cycles), with a soft-hued ecstasy that is hugely engaging. The central two movements – ‘Serenade for the Doll’ and ‘The Snow is Dancing’ – are absolutely enchanting, showcasing an apparently effortless command of the French idiom, while ‘The Little Shepherd’ is achingly wistful and the concluding Cakewalk has just the right degree of jazzy swagger and focussed weight, with the teasing central ‘trio’ marvellously inflected.

Abduraimov’s unfailing ability to draw out each piece’s character comes into its own in Chopin’s Op.28 Preludes. The opening C major Prelude, though brief, immediately makes the listener feel ‘at home’, its warm sonorities animated by deftly deployed rubato. The sheer range of the pianist’s gifts is soon evident, whether in the more introspective movements such as the A minor Prelude, or the jaw-droppingly fast B flat minor piece (where Abduraimov never for a split second loses control of the tempo). He also displays fine judgement in the overall pacing of the cycle, proceeding directly from the coruscating G major Prelude into the heartfelt E minor, and similarly plunging from the vivacious yet luxuriant sonorities of the E flat Prelude into the starkly funereal opening of the C minor; in the second and third paragraphs of the latter, the inner voices are highlighted to a tee. Other highlights are too many to enumerate in full; they include the way the surges of the E flat minor contrast with the delicacy of the following ’Raindrop’ Prelude, the resolute placing of the chords at the end of the F minor, the twinkling filigree of the penultimate F major Prelude, and the weighting of the tolling bass Ds that conclude the cycle. This is a performance to set alongside the finest, urgently involving, yet also opening up on gorgeous vistas of sound.

That gift for pacing is key to the success of a grippingly powerful performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Abduraimov dives headlong from the initial Promenade (which flowers gloriously from its modest opening) into the agitated opening of ‘Gnomus’ – as if the art gallery visitor comes unexpectedly and suddenly face-to-face with Hauptmann’s portrait of the grotesque, gnome-like nutcracker. Abduraimov adds some extra grace notes to the left hand in Gnomus’s second section which enhances its vividness, as well as tremolos to the descending chromatic octaves in the Meno mosso sections, all tastefully done in the service of the music. In the fourth of the pictures, ‘Bydło’, there’s just enough weightiness to suggest the heavy tread of the ox without impeding the cart’s seemingly inexorable journey. The semiquaver patter of children in the Tuileries garden is delightful, while the ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’ has an appropriately featherlight delicacy to it.

This tremendous account of Pictures is crowned by the final three movements: the sepulchral gloom of the ‘Catacombs’, the grotesque monstrosity of the larger-than-life ‘Hut on Fowl’s Legs’, and the splendour of ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’, the last eliciting an staggering dynamic range, from an opening that is deliberately restrained to a climax that is, quite simply, joyous. Throughout the work, Abduraimov invests the instrument with a stupendous range of sonorities that leaves one wondering why anyone would want to hear Pictures in through any other medium. The CD’s front cover has the pianist walking away from the instrument with jacket slung casually over his shoulder, suggesting a job well-done; listening to these performances (fabulously captured by Alpha at Berlin’s Teldex Studio) leaves one in no doubt!

15 January 2021