Marked by many changes in terms of performers and repertoire, Sunday night’s recital of the Martha Argerich Festival was remarkable for the cumulative effect of the performances. This 11th concert also was, as mentioned in his introductory words by Daniel Kühnel, the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra’s Artistic Director, an evening “with many pianists in different constellations”.

Lilya Zilberstein, Anton Gerzenberg and Daniel Gerzenberg
© Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

The most peculiar featured Lilya Ziberstein, Daniel Gerzenberg and Anton Gerzenberg playing together, on a single keyboard, Czerny’s Rondeau brillant for piano 6-hands, a minor piece by this prolific composer who seems to have taken pleasure in “terrorising” piano students not only with innumerable exercises, but also with physical constraints such as asking three players to rub shoulders on a single piano bench! It was probably easier for the evening’s interpreters because they are indeed family – the Gerzenbergs are Zilberstein’s sons. As with other events in this festival, their contribution gave the public a chance to appreciate how interpretative genes are inherited from one generation to the next. The two brothers also offered a vigorous rendition of the two-piano version of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side-Story. The Gerzenbergs played Bernstein’s expressive mix of rhythms and pulses with panache, raising the adrenalin level of the entire hall.

Martha Argerich and Lilya Zilberstein
© Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

Hamburg-based Zilberstein joined Martha Argerich in the evening’s final work, Shostakovich’s Concertino for two pianos, Op. 94, a single-movement work evoking hymn and circus themes, lyrical tunes and racing passages, all brought back with the composer’s unmistakable mastery. The two pianists played with gusto this music where dark thoughts seem to be absent. They did not allow any overt Romanticism to slip in, but still caressed the singing lines with great care.

Shostakovich’s shadow undoubtedly floated over the first work on the programme, Mieczysław Weinberg’s Twelve Miniatures for flute and piano, a series of independent vignettes whose individualised character was brought out by Hamburg Symphony’s principal flute Susanne Barner and pianist Akane Sakai. The dialogue between the two instruments is often minimal, but the two protagonists succeeded in creating an overall charming atmosphere, Barner’s warm tone standing out.

If the concert included several lesser-known works, the two selected by the South Korean pianist Dong-Hyek Lim were certainly not in this category. Both the Nocturne Op.27 no. 2 and the Scherzo no. 2 are among Chopin’s most cherished works. If Lim’s technique was unquestionable and his tone beautiful, the pianist’s grimacing was a tad bothering. He chiselled with elegance the Nocturne’s ornamentation but drew insufficient attention to the troubling dissonances and meter changes. The Scherzo was played with more élan and a clear understanding of the structural arch involved, nonetheless details were occasionally skimmed over.

Gabriela Montero
© Hamburg Symphony Orchestra

Arguably, the evening’s apex was Gabriela Montero’s appearance. She gave a dazzling performance of Prokofiev’s Sarcasms, drawing attention to the short works’ youthful brashness, daring sonorities, but also lyricism. Returning to the stage, Montero solicited the public’s input for a musical fragment (“Anything, as along as it is well-known to everyone”) as a base theme to jumpstart an improvisation. She settled on the very first offer, the theme of Brahms’ Wiegenlied. She meticulously proceeded to embellish it – harmonically, chromatically, rhythmically – creating a several-minutes long composition of remarkable consistency, thus giving the audience a glimpse into what composers-interpreters were regularly asked to do not so long time ago. It was a beautiful effort whose result should not necessarily be as ephemeral as Montero claimed.

This performance was reviewed from the Paramax Films live video stream