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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : Lubimov Poised in 20th-Century Program

Versatility, that virtue we all admire, can work against a musical artist in several ways, sometimes merely by putting some particular expertise in question.

Alexei Lubimov’s versatility, on display at his recital Monday night in the Japan America Theatre--and again tonight at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, when he is the pianistic collaborator to Peter Schreier in Schubert’s “Winterreise"--may eventually suffer from its own breadth, as has happened to some other performers.

For now, however, it seems cherishable.

The Russian pianist’s program of forbidding 20th-Century works turned out to be a pleasure on several levels. It introduced unfamiliar works by Valentin Silvestrov, Galina Ustvolskaya and Alexandre Rabinovitch, revived Charles Ives’ massive “Concord” Sonata and made musical sense of all this complicated music through a prismatic keyboard technique.

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There were no dull stretches in Lubimov’s playing of these sometimes dense scores. Silvestrov’s complex neo-Romanticism, of which two generations of contemporary music specialists have made us well aware, came across persuasively in the pianist’s fluent, articulate playing of the poignant Sonata No. 2 (1975).

The virtually unknown works of the purposefully obscure Ustvolskaya--whose mentor was Shostakovich--were represented heartily in her Third Sonata (1952), a compelling piece that might be described, in a few words, as Hindemith in a rage. Rabinovitch’s minimalist exercise “Musique triste, parfois tragique” (1976) became amusing for half its 14-minute length, tedious after that.

In Lubimov’s hands, the “Concord” Sonata unfolded convincingly, its mechanical hazards cleared away, its music singing forth. As the last half-century has proved, it is a masterpiece, but not one which can be heard regularly, for its difficulties lie in both technical and artistic areas, and are not subject to effortless conquest. This reading seemed to contain the whole work and its many, kaleidoscopic resonances.

The assisting (offstage) flutist in the final movement was Janet Ferguson.

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