Barry Plaxen’s Review of Shandelee Music Festival’s Last Two 2017 Concerts

 

FAST & FURIOUS: Ivan Vihor

The 5th concert in the 2017 Shandelee Music Festival’s series was the “Young Artists Concert” featuring 20 year old Ivan Vihor on August 17 in the Concert Pavilion.

This remarkable pianist made his orchestra debut at the age of 10, performing a Bach concerto.

Since then, he has won numerous awards at piano competitions. It is easy to understand why after hearing the concert in which he performed a Beethoven sonata, a Chopin ballade, Scriabin sonata, an adaptation of an operatic theme of Handel’s by Liszt, a Liszt sonata and a fast & furious Chopin piece for his encore.

Vihor showed exceptional ability when it came to the technical aspects of the works he performed, so his choosing an encore that demanded to be played in a fast and furious manner came as no surprise His moving and delicate moments were also highly in evidence, especially for me in Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57” in which he displayed a mature sense of phrasing and total overall understanding of the masterwork’s structure.

In addition, the Liszt adaptation of the Handel “Sarabande and Chaconne” requires both delicacy for its lovely theme and much technique for the wonderful variations, and young Vihor happily brought all that out superbly, as he did with all his offerings.  I believe this is the same work we heard a week earlier for concert # 3 performed on two guitars, but this time with the piano affording much more exuberance and expression.

The Shandelee Festival is noted for its Young Person’s Concerts.  They are always so very inspiring as we watch young adults continue to assure the legacy of classical solo piano music.

POWER AND PIANISSIMOS: Borislav Strulev

The 6th concert for the 2017 Festival on August 19 was, in a word, peculiar.  Or perhaps, a better word, anomalous, in that it was extremely atypical of what we expect to witness.  Billing it as “An Evening of Chamber Music” featuring Borislav Strulev (cello) and Irina Nuzova (piano) is something of a misnomer, in that only the first half of the evening deserved that title.

That first half started out with Ms. Nuzova “merely accompanying” Mr. Strulev in Bach’s “Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564.”  With hearing no more than the first three notes, we knew we were in for something more than just outstanding.  At intermission people asked me (even though it was listed in the program), “was that Bach?”  That was due to, I assume, mostly the Adagio movement.  Though it requires much pianissimo, Strulev mixes powerful playing and heartfelt pianissimos in each and every work he performs.  And he made Bach, which can be “difficult” for some people, more easily accessible to the average concertgoer.  Bach often wrote soft, melodic passages, an aria from his “St. Matthew Passion” is well known, but the average person thinks of Bach as a “technical” composer, so they were surprised with Bach’s lyricism.

The second work performed, Schumann’s “Fantasiestucke, Op. 73,” was more of what is/was expected, a “duet” for cello and piano, superbly played by Strulev and Nuzova.

An interesting work, it was originally composed for clarinet and piano.  Like the Bach work, there were three movements, and it was with this piece that we realized that Strulev is not your “ordinary” world class cellist; he uses his body in ways most of us have never seen before. His mouth open as if he is singing, his arms flaying as if he is conducting, his legs moving with reflex actions.  After ending each piece, Strulev would IMMEDIATELY stand up as if to say “Did you like that?” or “Wasn’t that just wonderful?”

Strulev and Nuzova then performed Debussy’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor” again, a work requiring power and much pianissimo.  This is a late work and more modern than Debussy’s earlier works, and something tells me that it was inspired by Ravel – especially the second movement with much pizzicato, as Ravel was wont to write in second movements.  Whether or not that is so, Ravel must have been bowled over by Debussy’s advancement in bringing more modern, but still tonal, harmonies and rhythms into his oeuvre. No merely soft and sweet Debussy-ish impressionistic sounds here, but a work that requires more technique and power than he usually asks for. Again, Strulev went all out with his unique style of performing, and Nuzova aided and abetted with her excellent playing.

Intermission followed, and then for the second half we were given something we did not bargain for.  Perhaps the second half should have been called “An Evening of Cello Music with Victor Borge.”

After telling us that he plays the cello because to him it is like a human voice, Strulev performed Massenet’s famous “Meditation” from the opera “Thais.”  It contains one of the loveliest melodies ever written for, originally, violin.  Though not announced, I would guess it is Strulev’s own arrangement for cello.  And BOY!, did he use that instrument’s higher regions to much advantage. Nothing really out of the norm.

But then then norm ended, and Strulev turned from being a superb cellist and highly communicative performer to being a masterful entertainer a la Victor Borge.  He performed two works by Sergei Dreznin, a “Lullaby” and his arrangement of a “Polka” by Alfred Schnittke.  And, for an encore, Daniel Popper’s “Hungarian Rhapsody, Op. 68.”  Adding to his impeccable pianissimos and astounding power, he infused into all of them, delicious and sometimes hysterical humor, mostly with his facial, hand and leg expressions as mentioned, but now also using the cello itself, the strings, the wood, the bow, the whole body, as a means for laughs, just as Borge did with the piano, but without stopping the music to joke verbally.  It was, as we say, peak entertainment!  Needless to say, the full house was thrilled with his antics and mesmerized with his physical expressions.

However, all through this bravura performance, please do note that it could not have happened without Ms. Nuzova’s additional participation, at times almost being a foil for Strulev’s humor.

With the end of Shandelee Music Festival’s summer concerts, they will move to Bethel Woods in September and October for their series “P.L.A.Y. The Classics,” with the Manhattan Chamber Players for “Evening of Chamber Music” (sic) on September 15, “Cabaret Night” on September 28 with Borislav Strulev and Friends playing classical jazz and pop (can’t wait to see what he does with THAT!) and Grammy nominated ZOFO, two pianists on one piano, on October 19.

For info and tickets: www.Shandelee.org

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