Franz Liszt: Après une lecture de Dante – Fantasia quasi sonata from Années de pèlerinage
Robert Schumann: Fantasie in C, Op.17
Igor Stravinsky: 3 Movements from Petrushka transc. for piano
Johannes Brahms: 28 Variations on a theme by Paganini for piano, Op.35
‘I don’t think I’ve experienced the same concert as everyone else’, I say to the gentleman who asks about my notes, after Pogorelich’s roaring success. ‘It is controversial, let’s put it like that’, he replies – and I walk out of the hall quite depressed. Not because of the music or the intensity of the performance – I am sad because I can sense Ivo is sad.
I read his interview for Piano International and one image got stuck in my mind – he talks about his wife who passed away in 1996: ‘Her liver exploded and in her last kiss she showered me with black blood. I didn’t want to wash it off.’ For a long time he couldn’t touch the piano. ‘I’ve never lost her. She is somewhere behind me now’.
Before the concert, there is what appears to be a retired ski instructor, with a cozy hat, jumper and boots, improvising at the piano on a semi dark stage, while the members of the audience find their seats. It is a man from the mountains. It is Ivo Pogorelich. The hermit’s hands reach under the thick jumper, he buttons up his trousers (which he has clearly unbuttoned to feel more comfortable during his pre-recital jazzy flirtation with the piano), and he leaves the stage to get changed. For a moment I thought he would play in that outfit – I must admit that the revolutionary in me was salivating already at the idea of a pianist being daring enough to perform dressed like a caveman.
Showtime. He doesn’t come out alone, the page turner follows him on stage. Ivo carelessly drops one of the scores next to the piano and tells off the old man sitting next to him, trying to explain that if he sits too close, he will hit him with the elbow, so he needs to stay away from him, now.
Then more than two hours of experimental sight reading begin.
I will never write a bad review, and I would like to stress that this is by no means a negative review of what just happened tonight. As I said, it was sad, and what I will treasure from this recital, is that it proved how much one can love, and how loss is one of the most destructive of feelings a human soul can be eroded by. Pogorelich is clearly not well emotionally / mentally, and I’m not sure who needs more hours of psychotherapy, him or the page turner who must be traumatised after this shift. The audience smiled when Ivo told him to hide the score under the piano a bit more, after the first piece – apparently it wasn’t on the right spot on the floor, and the page turner had to crawl to place it in the right position – he didn’t smile, nor did the pianist.
What I found most irritating was the complete lack of structure. I have been to very boring concerts, empty sound, aggressive technique, you name it, I’ve seen it. But this utter chaos, I’ve never heard anything like it before. And the most extraordinary thing is that the sound was, very often, stunningly beautiful, but everything was ‘ad libitum’. Not stunningly beautiful, let me rephrase that, the exact words would be distressingly beautiful. I can’t be angry at this man though, with his exquisite pianissimos (I have a pianissimo fetish), but why doesn’t Ivo trust himself? Why do his fortes sound weak, no intensity, no strength, no depth? Where is his faith in the music, and most importantly, again, in himself?
Too many tempo variations, misplaced rubatos, moments of doubt, rigid wrists, dry octaves. The man of the mountains is intolerant with the piano, with the audience, with the page turner and with himself. There needs to be a proper rationalisation of these pieces, there can’t be a mature structure unless there is an in depth musical and technical analysis – he is improvising, letting himself go way too much – lunacy is acceptable only if it serves a higher purpose. Schumann sounds like Prokofiev and Brahms like Alban Berg, and I’m starting to consider whether to get wedges or French fries at Waterloo station, while he is playing – not a good sign.
I haven’t got much else to say. Ivo needs love again, on all levels. And I hope he finds it, because he is a great pianist and I’m sure he’s also a great man. Being a concert pianist is heartbreakingly difficult, people don’t know how hard it is, what a slave you have to become, a martyr, a sick, mad, lost and beaten human being. And bless the piano and its slaves, because they bring the highest beauty to this world. That is all.