Last week, pianist Andrey Gugnin performed at the City Recital Hall. Gugnin, already rightly feted as a virtuosic interpreter, offered a performance that surely places him at the centre of the Australian music scene.
The concert opened with Edvard Grieg’s Ballade Op. 24, played with a light yet committed touch. Gugnin’s style was well-suited to the Romantic sensibilities and gentility of Grieg’s music, and the piece resonated with a careful elegance that ended in a joyous staccato.
The interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite — arranged for piano by Mikhail Pletnev — was fresh, yet comfortingly familiar. His inventive and inspired recital of this cornerstone of the Romantic Period was deft, and his playing style, steeped in the Russian Romantic tradition, was ideal for the skillful and considered interpretation of Tchaicovsky’s work. It managed to place the work firmly within the sphere of the piano, whilst preserving the variation and range of an originally orchestral composition.
Gugnin changed tack with Carl Vine’s 2nd Piano Sonata, a refreshingly contemporary piece of Australian classical music that was lively and achingly beautiful. The difficulty of Vine’s piece allowed Gugnin’s interpretive skill and talented originality to come to the fore, and it was a performance made all the more interesting by the honour of Vine’s presence in the hall. Gugnin himself thanked Vine, referring to the piece as “utterly captivating.” Such an appraisal of both the piece, and its performance, is true.
3 Bagatelles by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov were pensive and gentle, and the ideal introduction to what was by far Gugnin’s finest work of the evening: his performance of a selection from Stravinsky’s Firebird. That piece was performed with a wonderful vitality that gave new life and a refreshing originality to a keystone of the repertoire.
The night ended with encores of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in D Minor — the last movement of Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata — and the rarely heard, yet beautifully played, Etude for the Left Hand by Felix Blumenfeld.
All in all, Gugnin’s recital offered a delicate combination of both the canonical and the tastefully contemporary, played with utter talent and originality by a truly skilled soloist who probed the depths of the music, going beyond just the notes and into the heart of its meaning. It also reminded me — and, I’m sure, many other attendees — of the joy that comes from hearing works by Australian composers, and the importance of performing works by underrated writers.