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First of all, I’d like to commend director Jan Schmidt-Garre, not
only for directing this fabulous production, but for apparently also
creating a series entitled, “Legato: The World of the Piano.”
My introduction to the series via this DVD is devoted to the Russian
pianist, Boris Berezovsky. It is a 2007 release, on the EuroArts
label, and divided into three distinct parts. There is a 33-minute
portrait, followed by a one-hour, 43-minute concert. The disc then
concludes with a 56-minute interview.

Prior to watching this DVD, I was unfamiliar with Berezovsky. However,
I can assure you that I won’t forget about him from now on! He was
born in Moscow in 1969, and won the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition
in 1990, when only 21-years old. Although a gifted prodigy, he
indicated when interviewed that his love and passion for music
flourished after his Tchaikovsky Competition triumph. Prior to that
victory, he stated that he operated on the “ice cream reward
system” as a young boy, and his natural artistic progression was the
direct result of his talent. Even now, he states that he must have an
affinity with the pieces he performs in concert.

The initial portrait section of this DVD contains footage of Berezovsky
collaborating with Welsh composer, Dafydd Llywelyn. (Please note
that although the accompanying booklet gives his birth year as 1945,
my sources indicate that Llywelyn was born during 1939.) Berezovsky
and Llywelyn are shown rehearsing and discussing “Mutata Consilia –
Change of Plans,” a Llywelyn composition that is later featured
during the concert section. These two talented men have obviously
forged an artistic relationship, as Llywelyn composed this piece with
Berezovsky in mind. When questioned, Berezovsky admitted that
after initially disliking them, he grew to love Llywelyn’s works. It is
interesting to also note that Llywelyn’s compositions include a
piece written for the band, “Supertramp.” At any rate, the portrait
section of this disc was great, and provided me with a glance
of Berezovsky and Llywelyn, in an “everyday life” setting.

Berezovsky also discussed playing the works of Nicolai Medtner
(1880-1951), and the classical piano repertoire, in general. Some
of these film clips are repeated later, in the interview section of
the DVD. In my opinion, Medtner is often unfairly compared with
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943). It is true that they were good
friends, and held each other in high esteem. However, I believe
that Medtner’s music often has a sense of form and structure
that disguises its “Russian” characteristics, which may be
more prominent in some of Rachmaninov’s compositions.

Berezovsky then performed the Llywelyn piece, and with a
twinkle in his eye, made no secret of the fact that he made
some changes to the work, befitting the title, “Change of Plans.”
Llywelyn was in the audience, and didn’t seem to mind; however,
I had a problem because I wasn’t certain where Llywelyn’s
composition left off and Berezovsky’s “improvisations” began.
Stylistically, the harmonies and textures were reminiscent of
later works by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), and I found
this modern piece to be quite engaging.

Next, Berezovsky used a score during his performance of
Beethoven’s “Diabelli Variations, Op. 120.” This 57-minute
piece consists of 33 variations on a waltz theme by Anton
Diabelli (1781-1858) , and is Beethoven’s longest work for
the piano. It requires a special degree of concentration from
both the performer and the listener. I hadn’t heard this piece
in ages, and was glad to have an opportunity to revisit this
pinnacle of the piano repertoire, at the hands of such a
gifted performer.

Although I recognized the skill and ingenuity Beethoven used to
wring out the musical potential in these variations, I still found
the work to be a bit “trying.” Beethoven’s use of the “theme
and variations” format was not limited to solo piano works, and
the “Diabelli Variations” were rightly considered to be his magnum
opus
 in this genre.

A short piece, “Alt-Wien,” by Leopold Godowsky (1870-1903)
and three shorter pieces by Anatoly Liadov (1855-1914), concluded
this program. I was particularly impressed overall with Berezovsky’s
effortless technique, and I noticed that he kept his fingers close
to the keyboard, at all times. When discussing this approach, he
likened it to “massaging” the piano keys.

The actual interview section was probably the longest and most
in-depth one I’ve ever encountered on a DVD. Jan Schmidt-Garre
conducted the interview, providing Berezovsky with ample time
to discuss his childhood and early career, his aforementioned
views of the piano repertoire, and his practice methods. Berezovsky
even spoke of playing jazz, and getting paid at the end of gigs!
He contrasted his “improvisational” approach with that of the
late Arturo Benedetto Michelangeli (1920-1995), who planned
his recitals, “…down to the last millisecond.” Berezovsky
admitted that he never knows or wishes to know, how the
performance of a piece will turn out in advance.

This generously filled DVD gets an “A,” both for the quality of
the performances, and for Jan Schmidt-Garre’s innovative
programming approach to this format. I look forward to watching
more in this series.

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