Music review: Kirill Gerstein, Melbourne Recital Centre

Kirill Gerstein’s performance showcases a mastery of musical expression made seemingly effortless.
A Caucasian man is wearing a black suit and playing on a black grand piano.

‘Vivace’, the Italian word for ‘spirited and lively’ in the vocabulary of music, is perhaps the most concise way to summarise Kirill Gerstein’s playing. Armed with a lifetime of practice and dedication to piano, the Russian-American virtuoso manages to combine the bravado of classical and romantic period pieces with the freshness of contemporary piano-playing styles.

The program is distinctly curated with the intention of displaying Gerstein’s versatility as a concert pianist, with pieces that range from Chopin and Liszt to modern works by Brad Mehldau and Liza Lim (who was present to witness a world premiere performance of her composition).

Throughout this considered repertoire, Gerstein plays with consistent energy and masterful dynamic control. If you close your eyes during Gerstein’s interpretation of Fauré’s Nocturne, you could easily forget that the sounds are created by human touch. Some moments, like the trills and runs in Poulenc’s intermezzo, flutter like the hovering of hummingbirds. Meanwhile, delicate and purposeful rubato as noticed in the Chopin pieces evokes a feeling similar to that of walking against a strong breeze; a swing that creates musical tension and intrigue that never fails to entertain.

Gerstein’s performance captivates thanks to a sensitive balance between showmanship and intimacy. Not once does his playing come off as flamboyant or excessive. It always seems to hit just the right spot. 

Read: Music review: Day Tripper, RISING Festival, Melbourne Town Hall

As the Melbourne program concluded, the ovation lasted long enough to warrant not one, but two encore performances, one of which was a rendition of ‘Love’s Sorrow’ arranged by Rachmaninoff. Being one of Gerstein’s most studied composers, it was especially evident in this piece that he has developed a deep relationship to every song he plays. In each sequence, you heard and felt intention in the notes.

Clocking in at 90 minutes, the period-spanning performance leaves one reflecting on the dedication Gerstein has for this art form, and wondering how he manages to understand all of it so richly.

Kirill Gerstein 2024 concert season
Musica Viva Australia
Melbourne Recital Centre, 11 June 2024

Kirill Gerstein tours across Australia until 23 June

A multi-faceted artist, musician, and writer, Joshua has always found belonging in the creative sphere. Having grown up in Hong Kong, his worldview has always been a collage between the East and the West. Since moving to Melbourne in 2020, Joshua has increasingly become fascinated by the people who call it home and the stories they have to tell.