In concert – Boris Giltburg plays Granados, Albéniz, Ravel, Rachmaninoff & Prokofiev @ Wigmore Hall


Granados Goyescas: Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor (1909-12)
Albéniz Iberia (Book 3): El Albaicín (1907)
Ravel Miroirs (1904-5)
Rachmaninov Moments musicaux Op.16: no.2 in E flat minor, no.3 in B minor, no.4 in E minor (1896)
Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat major Op. 84 (1939-44)

Boris Giltburg (piano, above)

Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 14 March 2022

Written by Ben Hogwood

Boris Giltburg

14 March 2022

This was the second concert in Boris Giltburg‘s Ravel series at the Wigmore Hall – but as he eloquently explained in the programme and from the stage, it was impossible to proceed without responding to the situation in Ukraine.

Born in Russia but of Israeli nationality, Giltburg’s judgement in this was carefully considered. Reminding us that music has the overwhelming ability to reflect conflict as well as providing an appropriate response to it, in Prokofiev‘s Piano Sonata no.8 he had found the most accurate reflection imaginable. Ukrainian-born Prokofiev wrote the piece during the Second World War, and it was premiered by Sviatoslav Richter in Moscow in 1944. Here its resonance was unmistakable, the work unfolding with a mixture of uncertainty and resolve, with searing outbursts and anguished thoughts that spoke of oppression and tragedy. Prokofiev’s trademark dissonances were descriptive, the percussive rhythms laden with military power. The second movement relented a little in search of lyricism, Giltburg finding parallels with the composer’s ballet scores of the period, with hints of Romeo & Juliet carried on the air. Meanwhile the third movement, a powerful presto, tore up the tarmac in its relentless drive forward while finding time to consider the repercussions. Giltburg’s precision and power were beyond reproach here, his performance incisive but deeply reflective of current events. The Wigmore Hall listened closely, moved to silence throughout but responding with sympathetic applause.

Because of this performance the rest of the concert could have paled into insignificance, but that would reckon without some powerhouse performances of music from earlier in the century. It was refreshing to hear two Spanish works for starters. The music of Granados and Albéniz does not get enough exposure, and it should do – both wrote under the influence of Debussy but had something of the French master’s gift for picture painting. Giltburg caught the baleful tones of Quejas, o La maja y el ruiseñor (Lament, or the maiden and the nightingale), while the sultry El Albaicín was vividly descriptive and alluring.

Ravel may have written Miroirs in 1905 but in these hands it still sounded so modern. Noctuelles (Moths), a remarkable piece of picture painting from the French composer, found its match here, Giltburg delighting in its irregular contours, while the cleaner lines of Oiseaux tristes were no less effective. The much-loved duo of Une barque sur l’océan and Alborada del gracioso were brillianly performed – the former capturing the rocking of the boat with uncanny accuracy, surging forward before checking against the spray – and the latter exploring syncopations and dynamic variations to thrilling effect. Finally La vallée des cloches was both reverent and mysterious, notable for meticulous pedal work from Giltburg to maintain the atmosphere.

Immediately before the Prokofiev we heard three of the young Rachmaninov‘s six Moments Musicaux, a breakthrough collection that helped establish him as a serious composer for the piano in 1896. They are of similar design to the pieces of the same name by Schubert, in a group of six but giving the pianist freedom through varying dimensions and moods. These are pieces Giltburg holds close to his heart, and a whirlwind account of the second piece was checked by the darker hues of the third, a funeral march. This provided much food for thought with its nagging motifs, the music returning to the same itch with ominous regularity, before the fourth piece took off at a rate of knots, fearsome virtuosity tempered by immaculate melodic phrasing.

After the Prokofiev had made its mark we heard the ideal foil as an encore, Giltburg playing the Bagatelle no.1 by Valentin Silvestrov. A Ukrainian composer, Silvestrov was born in 1937 and – according to a conversation between Giltburg and a member of the audience – appears to have safely relocated to Poland. The simplicity of this piece, after the crunch of the Prokofiev, was doubly moving.

For more information on Boris Giltburg you can visit his website

On record – Christopher Lyndon-Gee conducts Silvestrov: Symphony no.7 (Naxos)

Inna Galatenko (soprano); Oleg Bezborodko (piano); Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra / Christopher Lyndon-Gee

Valentin Silvestrov

Ode to a Nightingale (1983)
Cantata no.4 (2014)
Concertino for Piano and Small Orchestra (2015)
Moments of Poetry and Music (2003)
Symphony No. 7 (2003)

Naxos 8.574123 [73’06”]

Producers / Engineers  Vilius Keras, Aleksandra Keriené

Recorded 18-24 January 2019 at Lithuanian National Cultural Centre Recording Studio, Vilnius

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Naxos makes a notable addition to the Valentin Silvestrov discography with this release of mainly recent works, mostly in first recordings, and all idiomatically realized by Lithuanian artists under the direction of conductor (and sometime composer) Christopher Lyndon-Gee.

What’s the music like?

Much the earliest piece, Ode to a Nightingale includes all the verses of Keats’s poem. A series of motifs constantly recurs and recombines such that this text is not so much set as projected via a rhetorical while flexible vocal line, heard against an instrumental texture dominated by a carillon that evokes the eponymous bird. Previously encountered in a chamber version, this is the first recording of the recently premiered orchestral original, and if larger forces extend rather than intensify its expressive scope, this is hardly to the detriment of the music overall.

Two decades on, and Cantata no.4 is an assembly of verse by Ukrainian poets (including the national author Taras Schevchenko), set in a manner that evidently recalls the salon intimacy of mid-19th century Russian songwriters. Most appealing is its Pastorale second movement, which duly re-emerges in expanded form as the corresponding movement in the Concertino written soon afterwards. Nominally more abstract, this latter piece charts a wider emotional terrain – the wryly ingratiating Pastorale framed by a Preliudium whose majesty rapidly dissipates, then a Serenade of wistful poise; none of these movements quite anticipates the Postliudium which brings about a closure of decidedly ominous ambivalence – a reminder that the seeming repose of Silvestrov’s later music is permeated by an introspective anxiety.

This is no less audible in Moments of Poetry and Music, a brief yet telling juxtaposition of verse by Paul Celan – to piano accompaniment – with a longer paraphrase where piano and orchestra open-out those salient motifs to a degree the more affecting for its understatement.

Which just leaves the Seventh Symphony – at barely 18 minutes, the shortest of Silvestrov’s maturity while eschewing both the underlying integration of the Fifth and plangent contrasts of the Sixth. Nor is it any less characteristic, unfolding as an unbroken span where episodes of relative tension and release interleave on the way to a coda of rapt evanescence. A pivotal cadenza from piano (rendered by Marija Grikevičiūté) is but the most significant appearance by an instrument whose concertante function tangibly enhances the speculative aura overall.

Does it all work?

Yes, providing one remembers the music from this composer’s maturity is less about ongoing evolution than incremental variation (the Eighth Symphony rather seems to indicate a stylistic shift in its priorities). Such pieces are best listened to individually, though the programme as assembled is persuasive in its follow-through; with Inna Galatenko eloquent during her vocal contributions and Oleg Bezborodko a pianist of no little finesse. Lyndon-Gee secures playing from the Lithuanian National Symphony as to indicate an orchestra punching above its status.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, and at its modest price this is an ideal introduction to the composer for those yet to be acquainted with his music. Conductor and orchestra will hopefully tackle more Silvestrov, not least the three symphonies (the Ninth pointedly entitled Ode to Joy) he has gone on to write.

Listen & Buy

You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the Naxos website


Live review – CBSO Weinberg Weekend: Gidon Kremer & Kremerata Baltica

Gidon Kremer (violin), Georgijs Osokina (piano), Kremerata Baltica (above)

Town Hall, Birmingham
Saturday 24 November 2018, 11am

Bach-Busoni (arr. Kremer) Chaconne in D minor BWV1004/5 (c1720)
Weinberg Concertino for Violin and Strings in A minor op.42 (1948)
‘Schubert meets Silvestrov’:
Schubert Five Minuets and Six Trios D89 (1813) and Der Musensohn D764 (1822) interspersed with
Silvestrov Five Pieces for violin and piano (2004)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Having launched the Weinberg Weekend with his impressive transcription of the 24 Preludes for cello, Gidon Kremer this morning bought Kremerata Baltica to Birmingham’s Town Hall for a programme that placed Weinberg within a typically stimulating and unexpected context.

Few who have heard Weinberg’s opera The Passenger could have been left unmoved by that climactic moment when the opening of Bach‘s Chaconne is intoned by unison violins as the symbol of an enduring German culture. Disappointing, then, that Kremer’s own arrangement of Busoni’s mighty piano transcription (as referenced at the opening) should have proved so underwhelming; or was it more the demands of synchronization when not conducted that led Kremerata Baltica to neuter textural and emotional contrasts in this immaculate yet unresponsive rendering.

Kremer then joined his ensemble for Weinberg’s Violin Concertino, a product of late-1940s Soviet culture when accessibility was not just desired but proscribed. While there is little in its melodic content of real memorability, the deftness and subtlety with which the composer unfolds his ideas across an ingratiating Allegretto, ruminative Adagio (whose cadenza-like introduction brings the most arresting music) then an incisive final Allegro is nothing if not resourceful. Even then, this attractive piece waited almost half a century for its first hearing.

Kremer and his ensemble made the most of these attractions, as they did in the final piece – a curious though effective dovetailing of miniatures from Schubert and Silvestrov. The former was heard in transcriptions (by Kremer?) of an early sequence of minuets and trios for string quartet, his teenage gaucheness outweighed by melodic poise and rhythmic brio. In between these, Valentin Silvestrov’s Five Pieces proved suitably elusive – Kremer and pianist Georgijs Osokina teasing myriad subtleties from a subdued elegy, wistful serenade, poetic intermezzo, limpid barcarolle and haunting nocturne. The sequence was rounded off with an arrangement (by Christoph Ehrenfellner) of Schubert’s song Der Musensohn, one of a handful of Goethe settings that mark the onset of his full maturity; here working its bewitching charms in full.

A bewitching way, indeed, to conclude a typically provocative programme by this always enterprising ensemble. Kremer’s and Kremerata Baltica will also be taking part in tonight’s concert which features a very different piece by Weinberg, his valedictory 21st Symphony.

Further information on the Weinberg Weekend can be found here