More than five years after his aborted West Coast debut, Soviet pianist Andrei Gavrilov has finally played in Los Angeles. His originally scheduled debut on Feb. 2, 1980, in Royce Hall, UCLA, was canceled in the wake of the Afghanistan crisis.
Gavrilov, winner of the gold medal at the international Tchaikovsky Competition of 1974, made his first appearance here in a Chopin recital Tuesday night in the Pavilion of the Music Center.
In a program encompassing the four Ballades, a group of six Etudes from Opus 10 and the B-flat-minor Sonata, the 29-year-old musician, who now lives in Great Britain on an extended visa, displayed the finger technique, power and individuality which brought him notice at an early age.
But he failed to establish himself as an important Chopin interpreter.
Instead, he excited a large, and largely undiscerning, audience by fast, passionate and blurred playing of all the many climaxes in this program, and by generally neat hurdling of technical challenges. Gavrilov's performances turn out to be more self-aggrandizing than polished, more bumptious than reflective. On the surface, they seem to work.
What may fool some of the people some of the time is the pianist's penchant for imbuing lyrical passages with genuine feeling, a controlled and well-modulated tone and real quietude. Such passages, in all four Ballades, proved the best part of the performance Tuesday.
The other side of Gavrilov's pianistic personality, however, is less pretty. It is an aggressiveness expressed through loud and brittle playing and excessive (i.e., inarticulate) speed; it is the dark side of his force.
This side, characterized by punched-out passage-work, non-legato chords and frenzied phrasing, dominated the bulk of his performance. It brought display, but no insights, to the etudes; it compromised the integrity of all four Ballades; it changed the Sonata from a poetic statement to one of showmanship.
The results, most damaging in the final movements of the Sonata, where all this crassness seemed to turn Chopin's nonverbal and inward-looking messages about immortality and the grave into mere breast-beating, belie the composer's delicate balance of lyricism and virtuosity. They put the emphasis on the individual performer, not the individual piece of music. They are not Chopinesque.
Appropriately, then, Gavrilov changed gears when it came time to add encores to his program. Instead of playing more Chopin, he offered Prokofiev's "Suggestion Diabolique," Opus 4, and a Praeludium by Mozart.