The Young Russian Pianist, Gleb Ivanov, triumphs in Haydn, Chopin, and Prokofiev at a Tannery Pond benefit

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Gleb Ivanov
Gleb Ivanov

Gleb Ivanov
Tannery Pond Concerts Benefit
at the home of Chris and Lois Herzeca
May 7, 2011
(Mr. Ivanov is represented by Young Concert Artists.)

Haydn, Sonata in C, Hob. XVI:48
Chopin, Four Mazurkas, Op. 41
Nocturne, Op. 37, No. 1, in G Minor
Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 1, in F Minor
Prokofiev, Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82

Another most impressive discovery of Christian Steiner’s, pianist Gleb Ivanov, a twenty-eight-year-old M.A. from the Manhattan School of Music, played a stirring program of Haydn, Chopin, and Prokofiev at a private benefit concert for Mr. Steiner’s Tannery Pond Concerts. Here was a pianist of impeccable—really formidable—technique, powerful intelligence, and marked individuality, playing with a concentration that made the audience hang on every note, putting across his point of view with full conviction. And this point of view was most definitely worth hearing—and that is an understatement. Any musician who can play with such polish, grandeur, and intelligence has my deep respect.

Born in Moscow, Mr. Ivanov comes from a family of musicians and began to accompany his father’s vocal recitals at the age of eight. He has also played the clarinet and the accordion and holds a diploma in clarinet from Lyardov High School. He graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, studying with V.V. Sedova, N.G. Sooslova, and L.N. Naumov. Mr. Ivanov earned his Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music, working with Nina Svetlanova. Mr. Ivanov is a recipient of a Musical Studies Grant from the Bagby Foundation.

A protégé of the late Mstislav Rostropovich, Mr. Ivanov appeared as soloist under the famous maestro with the Nizhny Novgorod Philharmonic. He also performed with the Moscow State Orchestra, in the Great Hall at Moscow Conservatory, in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 13 at the Kremlin, and at the Pushkin, Glinka, and Scriabin Museums in Moscow.

Mr. Ivanov won First Prizes at the 1994 and 1996 International “Classical Legacy” Competitions in Moscow, the Laureate Prize at the 1997 Moscow International Festival for Young Soloists, and the prize for Best Performance of a Beethoven Sonata at the First International Vladimir Horowitz Competition in Kiev in 1995.

Among Mr. Ivanov’s frequent re-engagements are concerts at the Louvre in Paris, Princeton University, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, “Pianofest” in East Hampton, and Fishers Island Concerts (NY). He has appeared with numerous American orchestras as well.

Joseph Haydn enjoyed a renaissance back in the 1970’s, largely due to recordings. We could finally get acquainted—aurally—with all of the symphonies, all of the quartets, all of the trios, all of the keyboard sonatas, and even a good many of his operas. The piano sonatas had never fit into the virtuoso repertoire, because their spare textures made them seem easy. Many of them are actually very difficult, because every note is exposed and there is no direct historical link to the appropriate style of playing, which requires precise rhythm as well as sprezzatura. Alfred Brendel brought the interpretation of this repertoire to a new height, at least among players of modern instruments. He fully recognized their full dimensions, while savoring their wit and quirky invention…but not without a price: his Haydn could sound a little fussy at times. Gleb Ivanov fully realized the grand scale of the C Major Sonata, playing with a tone that would have sounded big in a concert hall, let alone Chris and Lois Herzeca’s living room, but he also executed the details with exquisite care and never coming close to affectation. I’ve actually never heard Haydn’s tricky ornaments, in which an irregular number of notes have to be fit into the beat, played in such a fluent and natural way. Every note was clear, but the tone had volume and substance…and great beauty. And this was emotionally fulfilling Haydn as well.

Ivanov played the opening bars of the first Op. 41 Mazurka of Chopin with a plainness that was almost shocking. The phrases were almost devoid of expression, which, with a carefully measured pace unfolded as the exposition progressed. What followed was Chopin of an entirely individual, idiosyncratic kind: big and beautiful in sound, finely rendered in detail, and focussed with intense single-mindedness on the harmonic and psychological progressions of Chopin’s writing. He was not only courageously going his own way with Chopin, he was doing it with a deep understanding and appreciation of the music. All of us in the room were fascinated—which I’d say is rather unusual in these undeniably important, but familiar works, which suffer, if they are approached merely pianistically and not treated with the utmost love and respect.

Mr. Ivanov’s full, rich sound is entirely in accord with his physique. He is tall and solid in build. Prokofiev’s turbulent Sonata No 6 (1939-40), surging with the violence and uncertainty of war time was the only work on the program that literally called for such physical power. He played the first movement with ripping agitation and drive, the second playfully, but with a native sense of its Russian mood shifts, the dreamy, pensive waltz (Prokofiev’s greatest?) with elegaic resignation, and the last with blazing  wit—a magnificent reading of an major work. He did not state this publicly before playing, but afterwards he told me privately that playing the sonata, one of Prokofiev’s deeply felt wartime works, at this time, two days before Russian Victory Day, was especially important to him, and that all Russians take this very seriously.

The encores were a Prelude and Fugue from the Second Book of the Well-Tempered Clavier in an arrangement by Anatoly Konstantinovich Lyadov, one of Prokofiev’s teachers. Lyadov reversed the hands and cast it in such a dreamy, romantic mood, that it was almost disguised, although it sounded elusively familiar. The second encore was Chopin’s famous Polonaise No. 6 in A flat major, Op. 53, which he played with urgency, at an animated pace, after a marvellous, explosive treatment of the opening bars. With this, the breadth of his conception, and meticulous execution Ivanov made an old friend sound entirely fresh—which was in itself a remarkable feat, although he approached it as nothing like a feat, only insight into the composers’ thought process and honest musicianship.


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