A powerful talent from Italy, Alessandro Deljavan, made his U.S. East Coast debut Saturday night with a magnificent reading of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 under conductor Benjamin Zander with the Boston Philharmonic at Jordan Hall.
Zander told the audience, gathered for a pre-concert talk, that they were in for “one of the greatest piano performances you will hear in your life.” Expect “extreme elegance, tenderness and beauty, as well as immense virtuosity and power,” he said. This was not more Zander hyperbole.
A varied program opened the orchestra’s 41st season, beginning with Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, followed by the Brahms concerto, and as a climax, the stunning Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. The Philharmonic achieved rigorous success throughout under Zander’s direction and performed with outstanding verve in the colorful Bartok concerto.
Yet unquestionably, Deljavan’s Brahms kept the audience most rapt. The concerto calls for control of dynamics, brilliant arpeggios and trills, melodic passages and contrasting fortes and pianos in quick succession. Deljavan, only 32 years old, gave it a mature and masterly treatment.
Zander told me he and Deljevan paid special attention to maintaining a constant tempo in the allegro first movement and creating a flowing andante in the third. The result was evident. In addition, cellist Popper-Keizer spun golden lines which seemed to preach to the instrumental choirs and invest the other strings in his poetic radiance and portamento. Throughout, Zander secured particular warmth and romantic inflection from his excellent contingent.
“The audience fairly levitated at the dramatic final burst, mixing stomps and yells with the extended applause, calling back for two encores, the Aria from the Goldberg Variations and Chopin’s Mazurka op 17/4, both times to more demonstrous zeal.”
Zander credits critic Richard Dyer for bringing Deljavan to his attention.
Deljavan displays his European musical style openly, injecting a highly personal air into his performance. His emotional investment is obvious in his swaying frame and his flying hands. When I asked him in a previous interview about his stage mannerisms he said everything comes from the heart, and any attempt to temper his impulses would harm his musicality.
He came to Boston with impressive credentials, considering his age. He has recorded about 40 CDs in solo and ensemble music and was a semifinalist at the Cliburn Piano Competition in 2013. His performance there created an international wave of “Deljamania” that continued for several days after his elimination. He told me he is now finished with competitions ― too much preparation for too little gain.
Since the Cliburn, he has performed throughout Europe plus solo engagements related to the Cliburn organization, and other recitals in California and Montana. The Boston premiere may prove a turning point. “You think so?” he said hopefully when I spoke to him after the concert.
The Bartok concerto has special Boston roots, having been commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky as Bartok was gravely ill with leukemia in a New York hospital. Bartok weakly demurred but Koussevitzky insisted, offering a “handsome” fee of $500 upfront, to be matched upon delivery. Bartok agreed, exceeded himself with this concerto, and went on to live another three years. Koussevitzky premiered it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1944, to “inundating applause”, according to Michael Steinberg’s fine program notes. Bartok broke with the tradition of featuring a soloist in his concerto, instead making the orchestra a “hundred-headed virtuoso and star.” Zander and his players fully met the task, displaying Bartok’s humor, lyricism deathly gravity, and finally a sense of life-assertion.
Well attuned to the originality of this work, the audience again reacted noisily.
Image: Alesandro Deljavan (drawing by Michael Johnson)