To secure the services of one of the world’s legendary pianists to give a public masterclass is itself a tribute to the standing of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Keyboard Department. To get him to give a lunchtime recital was an undoubted feather in the cap for its Concert Diary, and the acclaim which greeted Andrei Gavrilov on Tuesday was just reward.
Gavrilov is an amazing performer, bristling with idiosyncracies of body-language: headlong launches into the music without any calming courtesies, and pounces away from the keyboard when all is over; unexpected facial fixings of the audience; the same facial muscles registering all kinds of emotional response to the music; and all the time a deeply-involved self-communing which itself draws all the listeners into an embrace of communication.
At first this proved disconcerting, and it took a while to settle comfortably into the generous selection of Chopin Nocturnes Gavrilov gave us. But at last we could relish undistractedly his pellucid line-drawing, his eloquent colouring actually off the piano-strings, his luscious pedalling and pearly melodic decoration.
The last of these led naturally into the ruminative opening of Prokofiev’s Sonata no.8 (deeply, movingly discussed in Gavrilov’s own programme-note), hands balanced as judiciously as in Chopin.
Its schmaltzy slow waltz caressed languorously before the barbarous toccata which ends this substantial wartime work, the keyboard now a virtual battering-ram under Gavrilov’s hands. And the encore, Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique, blew away the storm-clouds in a riot of motoric energy. For once I approved.