The late substitution of Ukrainian pianist Alexei Grynyuk into Brighton Festival’s lunchtime concerts proved to be a highlight of this year’s series so far. Grynyuk is one of those performers who doesn’t give much away until he’s sitting at the keyboard, but he can certainly make a melody sing, as well as deliver virtuosic fireworks. The latter were largely saved for the Liszt at the end of his programme – before that, we were treated to delicacy and effortlessly flowing playing in lyrical Mendelssohn and Schubert.

Alexei Grynyuk
© Luke Nugent

That’s not to say that Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses are without technical challenges and Grynyuk demonstrated great precision and agility in some of the variations requiring jumps and leaps around the keyboard. But from his opening prayerful statement of the theme onwards, he ensured the melody sang through at all times, only allowing a fully Romantic explosion in the final coda, before subsiding into Mendelssohn’s quiet ending.

The four Schubert Impromptus D.899 continued in a similar vein, with Schubert’s lyrical melodies shining through at all times. Grynyuk opened the C minor with a captivating pianissimo, and the dynamic contrasts here were arresting. As the piece developed, pianissimo did rather equate to slowing up the tempo and increasing rubato, which bordered on a mannerism, but his ability to contrast quiet left hand textures with singing melodies was faultless. The E flat major Impromptu was gloriously fluid, with dramatic gestures in the middle section; the G flat major again had a singing melody with burbling rapids below, and despite a momentary lapse in the middle section, the A flat major had a feathery touch to its falling cascades.

In his transcriptions of Schubert songs, Liszt always keeps the melody paramount at the same time as bringing something extra to the texture. Litanie (or Litanei auf das Fest aller Seelen, Litany for All Souls Day, to give its full title) was one of a set of four songs he transcribed, the Vier geistliche Lieder. Here, the melody is initially given to the baritone register, and Grynyuk’s warm tone made the lyrical melody sing out of the rich texture. The melody is transferred to octave doubling by the right hand for the second verse, and Grynyuk still kept this remarkably sensitive and lyrical throughout.

And finally, fireworks and then some! Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 9 in E flat major borders on crazy, with its increasingly virtuosic catalogue of folksong tunes embellished with dazzling extremes of rapid-fire showmanship. Yet Grynyuk also took great delight in the jaunty rhythms and cheeky ornamentation as each melody was introduced – I’m sure there was a twinkle in his eye once or twice – before the fireworks took over each time. The swirling dances had ever more abandon, building to a positively blistering finish.

One comment on the venue. The Brighton Dome complex is still going through its lengthy redevelopment, and lunchtime concerts were moved out several years ago now from the old Pavilion Theatre. Most have been held in a large church in Hove, but a few are ‘elevated’ to the lofty Dome concert hall. Sadly, this is not an ideal venue for single instrument recitals, lacking in intimacy and acoustic warmth. But more importantly, there were significant noises off today, unfortunately several times coming from staff headsets at the back of the auditorium (this was repeated in a particularly quiet moment of the LSO concert later the same day). An unfortunate distraction in an otherwise highly pleasurable lunchtime concert.