What can be written about pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk than has not already been canvassed by an adoring press, here and overseas?
Born in the Ukraine, Gavrylyuk already had competition wins before age 13, when he came to study in Sydney. The Australian experience itself is the stuff of legend, including early international success, recovery from a horrific car accident – and, in more recent times, marriage to a former student, with their daughter born last year.
There have been invitations from all over the world and more wins, including the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Masters Competition in Israel. This was a fitting honour, as Gavrylyuk’s style is not dissimilar to that of the legendary Romantic pianist and Chopin exponent.
What can confidently be said about Gavrylyuk is that he is a concert pianist in the traditional sense. A pianist who thrills the audience with a dazzling display of technique, yet can infuse his playing with deep sensibility and understanding of the composer’s soul. One who could, perhaps, be as good as the composer himself. (Although, of course, it’s likely that a pianist of Gavrylyuk’s ability would be a far better performer than most composers!).
But to the concert we heard on Saturday night. It is always reassuring – and respectful - when a pianist best known for his interpretation of the Romantic repertoire plays music by Bach. Technique is exposed, as is the ability to maintain a consistent tempo – no mean feat. Gavrylyuk gave us a clean, clear approach to Bach’s Italian Concerto, the brisk tempo for the opening movement allowing an exhibition of hands flying across the keyboard in the manner traditionally expected of a concert pianist.
While the Steinway didn’t look or sound like a harpsichord the pianist confined the dynamics to blocks of loud and soft sound, as Bach indicated in this work for a two-manual instrument. Purists might still not like the use of pedals in baroque performance, but Gavrylyuk’s pedalling was sparing and well judged. The second movement, Andante, was played with restrained feeling, in a way that suggested it could well be a popular piece in its own right if it were heard more often on the piano.
As for the third movement, Presto, Gavrylyuk took the composer at his word and gave a no-holds-barred performance that demonstrated his credentials as a pianist with brilliant technique. The Schumann Fantasie in C that followed was written 100 years after the Bach – but, although you’d expect it to be a huge contrast, it was similar in its tempo and the brilliance needed to play it well.
In this, Gavrylyuk exceeded all expectations and added an empathy for the work (especially in soft passages) while demonstrating Schumann’s fondness for florid harmony, ornamentation and contrasts. Moving from staccato passages to gentle syncopation to a massive building-up of sound, Gavrylyuk made every crescendo exciting. The combination of strong hands and true feeling for the music confirmed his status as a ‘concert pianist’.
I wanted to stop taking notes and simply be swept along by the music. But the final work, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, brought with it an unlooked-for irritation – the program! At $10 and rather like a menu (with no complementary copies for reviewers) this was not good value. It was almost unreadable when the lights were dimmed, leaving me struggling to remember whether the chicks came before the legs (two of the odder titles were ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’ and ‘The Hut on Fowl’s Legs’) and the sequence of all 15 movements.
A detailed critique of the performance of this work was therefore not possible. Nothing that I scribbled added to what I had already noted, except perhaps for Gavrylyuk’s exceptional mastery of the dynamics in this work: from loud, crashing chords to gentle reprises of the ‘Promenade’.
While dealing with negatives, I should say that the audience was one of the most disrespectful I have ever had to be part of. Not only did we have the usual coughs, the worst offender returning after interval, but also latecomers, people sniffing or unwrapping sweets, even talking over the music (‘Oh, I know that one!’) – and, inevitably, a very loud mobile phone
Alexander Gavrylyuk is indisputably a five-star pianist and the audience recognised that. So it is ironic that some of his fans (and management, thanks to that program) made this a less than perfect concert experience.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5
MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition
BACH Italian Concerto
SCHUMANN Fantasy in C, Op.17
Melbourne Recital Centre
City Recital Hall Angel Place, Sydney
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level