The Moore County Arts Council's Classical Concert Series’ usual sellout crowd in the intimate Sunrise Theater witnessed 23-year-old Russian pianist Gleb Ivanov conjure a spell in a program that mixed keyboard virtuosity with long, singing lines. Technically, a piano is a percussion instrument, but in the hands of an artist, the notes can be woven into an illusion of unbroken melody. When called for in the score, Ivanov lacked nothing in his ability to play perfectly tuned, loud passages. His pp sections were magically gossamer and his palette of color and timbre seemed myriad in its refinement.
Ivanov’s program opened with Sonata No. 58 in C, Hob. XVI:48, by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). According to an article by Michelle Fillon, in The Cambridge Companion to Haydn, this sonata is an important transitional stylistic work, part of a series of “exuberant” works composed after Haydn acquired a fortepiano by the Viennese builder Wenzel Schanz in October 1788. Karl Geiringer quotes a letter by the composer praising the “light touch and comfortable action” of the Schanz fortepiano compared to the more expensive Walter instruments preferred by Mozart. This ease is reflected in the highly imaginative two movements of the sonata, an Andante con espressione with an ornate theme which is varied in a series of fantasy variations alternating major and minor modes, followed by a thrilling monothematic Rondo. Ivanov played with a fine sense of classical style, with imaginative color and dynamic touches for the intertwining lines of first movement, and with a rollicking sense of fun and games in the fast movement.
Maintaining continuous melodic lines dominated the rest of the program, a mixture of superb well-known Liszt transcriptions of three songs, a choice late sonata by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), and two beloved, hoary selections by Frédéric Chopin (1810-49).
Ivanov's performance of Liszt's transcription of "Ständchen," from Schubert's Schwanengesang, D. 957, was breath-taking as his piano seemed to simultaneously "sing" the text above its accompaniment. This is one of Liszt's most miraculous adaptations. Ivanov conjured an agitated atmosphere for "Gretchen am Spinnrade," D.118. A stormy "Aufenthalt," from Schwanengesang, was followed by the darting and splashing of Schubert's well-worn theme from "Die Forelle," D.550.
The florid melodies of Chopin’s Nocturne in B, Op. 9/3, were followed by Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, Op. 39. It is unusual in that it has four quarter notes within a bar of triple meter, octave passages for both hands and a distinctive repeated theme described by John Gillespie in Five Centuries of Keyboard Music as a “block of bare chords followed by shimmering impressionistic descending figurations.” This work benefited from Ivanov’s imaginative application of color.
Schubert’s Sonata No. 21 in B-flat, D.960, is my favorite. The composer challenges accepted concepts of continuity based on Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Sometimes the music, to quote Kurt Oppens’ notes for Richard Goode’s Nonesuch CD, “just goes on, with the composer …presenting one new melodic idea after another.” Schubert’s approach to development is “a transplantation of the themes.” The first two movements, the sprawling twists and turns between the dominant themes of the first and the enchanting “song without words” of the second, challenge the musician to balance an over-arching view of the work as a whole with the passing delights of Schubert’s changing invention. Ivanov’s dynamic range was unusually wide but he had an extraordinary ability to hold this sonata together. His imaginative view was rewarded with a true standing ovation. Ivanov paid particular attention to giving full value to silences in composer’s scores, and this was very important in this sonata.
A Bach prelude, arranged by Alexander Siloti, was given as an encore.