Yuri Bogdanov, since 1997 the piano soloist of the Moscow State Academic Philharmonic Society, performed at Elfers Hall last Wednesday evening for the Hotchkiss Portals Program. He opened with J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 6 in E minor, BWV 830. This work features energetic adornment of seven kinds of dance. The opening Toccata employs four chords with sighing, leaning notes (one note above or below) to create a mood of query, since they appear to create a situation of question and answer with syncopation effect. One might say that people are asking each other if they will dance and variations in the music suggest: Yes, no, maybe later, never! The fourth movement offers a French air.
While the first three movements are Italianate, the fiercely emotional Sarabande appears to question the slightly rigid formality of the preceding four dances. Originating in Spanish South America, here was an emotional freedom not found in court music. This Sarabande might be the rawest composition Bach ever wrote and without hesitation Bogdanov brought that raw feeling forward. Gliding into the French Gavotte, a rural country dance which migrated to courts, Bach appears to question whether this is really an exciting dance. The concluding Celtic Gigue carries the fugal themes to robust climax. The Gigue sounds even better than the wild Sarabande. In his attack Bogdanov captured Bach’s festive conclusion that the Gigue has it all: energy within a form, freedom to improvise with and against the form, the most pleasurable dance available. This Bach Partita has been a favorite of mine for decades.
Bogdanov next played Felix Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso, op. 14. It was as if Bogdanov was claiming that he knew of even better dance music to listen to. The spectacular arpeggios melted in my eyes as a staccato blur. Yes, here were dancing, racing fingers in the same 4/4 meter of Bach’s Gigue. Shifting to the minor key, this cerebral dance conjures such emotion to a level beyond thought. This was the Romantic apotheosis of what summits Romanticism might climb. I grew dizzy watching Bogdanov’s unerring fingers. This was my favorite piece of the evening.
After a brief intermission, Bogdanov played six selections from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons (1876). Thirty-one years earlier Fanny (Hensel) Mendelssohn composed a piano cycle of songs for each month. A magazine editor commissioned Tchaikovsky to repeat that feat. Tchaikovsky was prolific and meditative. He required his servant to remind him to compose a piece each month on a set date—so Tchaikovsky spent one day each month composing for the magazine. The result was uneven but always interesting. The idea was to provide some simple tunes for amateur pianists to play at home yet Tchaikovsky, the greatest master of melody in the history of music, allowed this exercise to be much more difficult than the original intent.
Bogdanov opened with the Carnival theme of February that traversed a menu of moods, and then leapt to the Barcarolle of June, the most famous blooming piece of the set. August employed repetition motifs of harvesters at work, yet this remains the most subtle of months. The hunting call appears in the right hand for September, while October brought out the poignant melancholy of autumn ending. The jingling sleigh bells of a troika ring out as we then experience the gentle dally of sifting snow in a waltz and the diminutive slow notes of the storm concluding. Bogdanov was at home in these pieces. (He has just recently brought out a cd of The Seasons and Tchaikovsky’s children’s songs.
Bogdanov played four short pieces by the eccentric and poetic Alexander Scriabin: 2 Poéms nos. 1 and 2; Prelude for the left hand, op. 9, no. 1; Étude in D sharp minor, op. 8, no. 12. These were poetic. I am perplexed as to why Scriabin’s parlor music is not played as much as one might think in the States. This small glimpse of Scriabin was a gentle breeze of fresh air at Bogdanov’s magic fingertips.
The excited audience demanded two long bows. Bogdanov played an encore: the “Baba Yaga” theme from Tchaikovsky’s album of children’s music—a delightful way to conclude a wonderful tour of the keyboard.