The evening of Feb. 22, Dr. Boris Konovalov performed Schubert, Rachmaninoff and Brahms at The Grace Hamilton Piano Festival Guest Recital at Northern Recital Hall on the WTAMU campus.
The festival is a celebration named for the Amarillo pianist who helped found the Amarillo Symphony and served as its first conductor and awards a scholarship prize to the winner of the competition.
Originally from Novosibirsk, Siberia, Maestro Konovalov boasts an impressive resume of prizes, positions and performance venues. He has released six CD’s and currently lives in Vancouver.
He began the program by his own arrangement of Schubert waltzes, a prerogative assumed by a number of composers.
The Maestro took immediate control of the keyboard, the sound reflecting his mastery of technique.
Some of the themes are very waltzy, imparting visions of an Alpine meadow filled with spring flowers. Other themes are a bit of a stretch, conjuring martial images like a cavalry charge, or maybe a buffalo stampede. After all, the buffalo is the school mascot.
Whatever the theme, the Schubert was a delight to hear, and Dr. Konovalov made the Steinway sing to the entire auditorium.
The major part of the program consisted of Rachmaninoff with selections ranging from the reflective to the raucous.
The “Elegie Op. 3 No. 1” actually fits the first adjective and exists in stark contrast to the powerful poundings of some of the preludes.
This piece is a post-mortem, but hardly maudlin as the composer invites the listener to share happy memories of lost loves and lives.
The next two selections, “Melodie” and “Polichinelle” are from “Morceaux de Fantaisie” written in 1892 and dedicated to one of his teachers Anton Arensky.
“Melodies” which was revised in 1941 for unknown reasons, begins with a left-handed melody and then right-handed accompaniment, which ultimately becomes quite complex, with the artist using crossed hands to enhance the evocative quality.
The “Polichinelle” is playful and delightful, but still strong. It’s hard to credit the composer’s assertion that he had a lifelong battle with chronic lassitude, with the stunning energy these works radiate.
Dr. Konovalov played five preludes, the most famous, of course, the “C-sharp minor” drawn from the same suite as the “Melodie” and “Polichinelle.”
The fff chordal triad marking the beginning is as well-known as the four note opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. And the deft touch of the maestro showed in the marked contrast between strong and soft, leaving the audience in Rachmaninoff Elysium.
The final number on the program was the “‘Variations on a Theme by Paganini,” Bks 1 and 2. Each book opens with Paganini’s “Caprice No. 24 in A minor” followed by fourteen variations.
Brahms, in capturing the musical soul of “the devil’s violinist” reveals himself possessed of a bit of Der Teufel. And Boris Konovalov rendered these pieces with fiendish intensity, possibly exorcising the demon within.
“World-class” has become a hackneyed phrase, but that is exactly what we were treated to this evening in the heart of cowboy country, a world-class performance by the All-Russia grand champion pianist.
It was with regrets that we left the realm of the arts to return to reality. But that is a frequent feeling we’ve come to know on the High Plains.
Our thanks to Denise Parr-Scanlon and Dr. Robert Hansen for arranging this splendid occasion. And, with even more reason we say, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!”
Upcoming Events: WTAMU Mar 4: “Opera Cowgirls” and Graduate Band Concert; AC Mar 5, Piano Series; Chamber Music Amarillo, Mar 9.