Saturday evening's concert with the Fort Worth Symphony and pianist Alessandro Deljavan at Bass Hall goes on a very short list that I have spent a lifetime compiling of truly memorable concerts. Deljavan arrived with a unique concept of Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto in mind and proceeded to play it his way. The FWSO and Music Director Miguel Harth-Bedoya said a collective “Yes, Sir” and fell in line. The result was so astonishingly fresh that we joked at intermission that we had just heard Rachmaninoff's fifth concerto because it was so different from the shopworn run-throughs that we get more often than not.
Deljavan's performance was revelatory in every respect, with all phrases and tempi thoughtfully considered by themselves as well as how they fit into the whole. It was as if he had assembled a marvelous musical piece of stained glass, in which he carefully polished and matched the color of each piece before placing it in the only place that it could go. To continue the simile, when he was finished and we looked at the completed window, the lead between all the pieces had vanished and the result was a solid and seamless work of art.
And everyone in the hall knew that they were hearing something special—something wonderful—from the very first notes. At the end, the spontaneous eruption of cheers was so different from the perfunctory ovation that any decent performance is awarded, that being a part of the thrilled crowd was a unique experience in itself.
The orchestra joined in immediately—no polite bow tapping here—as the players put their instruments down so that they could fully join in with the ovation. My fellow critics, who usually are making notes rather than applauding at the end of a performance, joined the example of the orchestra and applauded energetically. It was a moment to be savored and long remembered.
Deljavan was one of the contestants in the recent 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition who many of us marked as a sure winner. The combination of an astounding technique and a thoughtful approach musically seemed to be unbeatable. His performance in the chamber music section elicited much the same response then as this exceptional performance did on Saturday. Many were stunned to find out that the jury didn't agree and Deljavan did not move on to the final round. The most offered explanation was that the pianist detracts from his performance by an odd series of grimaces and vocalizations. These spring spontaneously from the same place within his very being as does the music. The general reaction to that assumption was “Really? That's what you don't like?” He did receive the jury's special award, perhaps as an embarrassed “we're sorry.”
It would take a formal essay to discuss all of the enlightening innovations and lovely turns of phrases that Deljavan displayed in his performance. As soon as he started, I realized that this was going to be something special so I put my notepad away to allow myself the luxury of experiencing the music as a member of a fortunate audience. Besides, much of the magic is hard to convey in words. “You had to be there” was never more true.
However, mention must be made of the slow movement, which Deljavan took very slowly indeed. One criticism that I, among others, have leveled on his playing in general is that he luxuriates too much at the ends of phrases and that a poco ritard within the phrase nearly brings progress to a halt. This tendency was in evidence as he lingered over phrases which were already in his glacial take on Rachmaninoff's marking Adagio sostenuto (slow and sustained).
Deljavan took these instructions to heart and added at least one molto. He also added con melancholia e le lacrime trattenute ("with melancholia and restrained tears"). This is a fictitious marking of my own invention solely for use in this review; at least, I haven't seen it anywhere else. I use it to attempt to describe the spell Deljavan cast over everyone in Bass Hall as he played the movement. Like a musical hypnotist, he opened the door to our own private space where we store bittersweet remembrances yet somehow, being in that very private world not withstanding, we felt like we were also part of a collective for 15 minutes or so, but it could have been hours.
The buzz in the lobby at intermission confirmed our common experience, our amazement and our gratitude to our lucky stars that we attended the concert.
Reentering the hall after intermission was difficult. You somehow wanted to go home and savor Deljavan's gift. Adding to his reticence was the memory of Harth-Bedoya's hamfisted and hobnailed boot stomp through Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony on Friday evening. This symphony (No. 5), what might be the composer's least introspective symphony, is always a likely candidate to be overblown.
Such was not the case. The magic with which Deljavan filled the aether did not dissipate. A completely controlled and precise Harth-Bedoya and an inspired FWSO turned in one of their best performances in memory. It couldn't have come at a better time. Following that amazing performance of the Rachmaninoff second concerto, anything less would have withered by comparison.
The opening chords of the first movement were so softly played that they seemed unsubstantial, like fog or a wispy puff of smoke. Harth-Bedoya played the dotted primary theme in a matter-of-fact way, wisely saving his emotional ammunition for second subject,which is replete with a large crescendo and decrescendo as an integral part of its nature. The third theme is more languid, marked molto più tranquillo ("much more tranquil or slower"), but Harth-Bedoya took “molto” a bit too seriously and the movement lost energy that was hard to regain.
The remainder of the symphony was played with finesse and sensitivity. Wonderful solos by all of the principal winds showed off the quality of the orchestra, as did the general intonation and blend. Unlike on Friday, Harth-Bedoya never once begged for more sound than the orchestra could offer and he paced the glorious moments in such a way that the symphony progressed inexorably to its brilliant conclusion—its message of hope and forgiveness displayed for all to see. By contrast, in ending his sixth symphony, which we will hear on Sunday afternoon, Tchaikovsky was unable to muster anything but the most profound personal grief and unrestrained tears. Harth-Bedoya let us enjoy the sunshine while we could.
◊ Reviews of other performances in the Russian Festival:
- Beatrice Rana Friday, Aug. 23