Music review: Alexei Lubimov opens the Monday Evening Concerts season


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Alexei Lubimov opened this season of Monday Evening Concerts at the Colburn School’s Zipper Concert Hall with a meditative recital he called “The Messenger.” But with nine short, aimless pieces from across three centuries and nine borders, the Russian pianist wasn’t so much the Messenger as the Wanderer.

Indeed, if Lubimov had a message, it was cryptic and incongruous. He wrote in his program note about the impossibility of oblivion. For me, Bob Dylan’s “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now’ came to mind.


He began Monday with a Fantasia from 1787 known as “C.P.E. Bach’s Feelings,” in which J.S. Bach’s son, the year before he died, tried to break free of classical structure. That was followed by John Cage’s “In a Landscape” from 1948, this by the American composer who made a point of trying to write music freed from personal feelings.

Around an hour later –- passing through Tigran Mansurian’s Armenia, Liszt’s Hungary, Chopin’s Poland, Georgs Pelecis’ Latvia, Galina Ustvolskaya’s neurotically indignant Russia and Arvo Pärt’s Estonia, Lubimov arrived in Kiev. This last piece, “Der Bote” (“The Messenger”) by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, attempted to bind itself with the chains of the Classical era musical procedures from the time of C.P.E. Bach. But Silvestrov’s only problem is that his bonds keep coming loose. Without the oblivion from bondage, the historical circle was complete.

Lubimov is a compact, scholarly looking man, born in 1944. He gets from the piano an exceedingly beautiful tone like that of the great Russian keyboard masters before him. He is an introspective player. His lyricism is a marvel. In Schubert, Chopin, Mozart or Brahms, he can send a listener into the most delicious reveries.

And because of that, he is a wonderful subversive. The last time he came to Los Angeles was 15 years ago for two performances. In one, he joined the German tenor Peter Schreier for Schubert’s song cycle “Wintereisse.” The other was a recital of mystical Eastern European music and Ives’ all-American “Concord” Sonata, which he plays magnificently.

In Moscow, Lubimov was once a musical moving target for the Soviet authorities. He played early music on period keyboards (a most un-Russian pursuit). He also produced a festival of new music that featured frowned-upon works from the Western avant-garde as well as from young Eastern European composers pushing the political envelope.

Although eclecticism is easier to get away with these days, Lubimov is still hard to pin down. He did some unusual things Monday. Though an early music specialist, he played C.P.E. Bach with heavy pedaling, making it sound almost as though this were a Romantic Rachmaninoff arrangement. He turned the purposeless ripples of Cage’s “In a Landscape” into distinct figure and ground, creating melodies and finding places to go, true to the notion of the oblivion of oblivion.

Mansurian’s “Nostalgia,” Liszt’s “La Lugubre Gondola II” and Chopin’s “Prelude in C-sharp Minor” was each darkly mysterious, yet luminously played. Two movements from Pelecis’ Suite No. 3 added a classical patina to cheesy Eastern European pop, as a warm-up to Usvolskaya’s Sonata No. 6. Here Lubimov tempered her belligerent percussive attacks with his poignant bell-like tone.


Finally, Pärt’s serene “Für Alina” became prelude to Silvestrov’s “The Messenger,” which is played with the piano completely closed to help create the sensation of music from far away.

Performed without a break, this fanciful journey lasted not much longer than an hour. Time is relative, and the accommodations were deluxe, so it is hard to complain. But Lubimov has not been in our neck of the woods for a long while, and this was too little from a pianist who covers so much territory. --Mark Swed