Behzod Abduraimov has turned quite a few heads in the world of classical music in recent years. The young pianist made believers of hundreds more listeners on Friday night in Helzberg Hall as he joined the Kansas City Symphony and delivered a riveting performance of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor.
Abduraimov garnered international acclaim in 2009 when he won first prize in the London International Piano Competition. He was 18 at the time, and a student of Stanislav Ioudenitch at Park University’s International Center of Music. Since then he has traveled the world as a soloist, and signed a prestigious recording contract with Decca.
Abduraimov opened the work with a rich and shimmering tone, and the orchestra responded in dramatic fashion.
The soloist played with luxuriant romanticism throughout the first movement, and produced some of the best legato playing I have ever heard. In the same movement he proved himself capable of the most fiery virtuosic passages. The central movement featured delightfully lilting dancelike melodies.
Abduraimov and the orchestra saved the best for last, employing a broad palette of pianistic and instrumental colors in the finale. Throughout the work, but especially in the last movement, the ensemble matched Abduraimov's colors--bright at some moments, dark at others.
The audience leapt to its feet at the end of the work.
The concert began with Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op. 52. This is an attractive piece that can fall flat if not given the proper attention, but the ensemble brought it to life.
The first movement opened with a ponderous introduction that featured a warm and well blended string sound. Soon a more cheerful theme appeared in the full orchestra. The ensemble played with energy, and Stern excelled in bringing out finely wrought phrasing and effective dynamics.
In the finale, while the music at times seemed repetitive, Stern and company added crisp accents that kept the music not only interesting but vibrant.
Richard Strauss’ tone poem “Tod und Verklȁrung” (Death and Transfiguration) opened the second half of the concert. Despite occasional lapses in intonation, the work was a well-delivered study in extremes, with expressive soft sections alternating with explosive ones.
The evening concluded with a lush rendition of Tchaikovsky’s popular Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy. The second half of the work suffered somewhat from a number of slips in intonation and blend. Nevertheless, the final statements of the famous “love theme” were both expressive and beautiful.