Stepping in with barely a week’s notice as substitute pianist at last Sunday’s Frederick Collection concert, Ivan Gusev had no time to rehearse with the collection’s Chopin-era 1840 Erard. Having played the 1893 Erard for his May 1st appearance on the series, he and the Fredericks felt he should play the piano he knew. Gusev had first proposed a choice between a Chopin or a Beethoven-Schumann program for May 1st; but since Thomas Pandolfi was to have played a similar Chopin program on May 22nd, Gusev played the Beethoven-Schumann on May 1st. Extreme weather fluctuations in late April threatened the tuning stability of the wood-framed Beethoven and Schumann era pianos in the Frederick Collection; the metal-framed 1893 Erard would hold tune better. Gusev therefore showed his May 1st audience how Beethoven and Schumann might have sounded to an 1890s Paris audience — hardly the first example of period cross-referencing for these concerts.
The May 22nd Chopin program was Gusev’s third Historical Piano Concerts appearance since his October, 2021 series debut, playing all-Rachmaninoff on the our 1907 Blüthner — the composer’s personal favorite make.
Gusev dedicated last weekend’s performance to the memory of his beloved teacher, the late Allan Evans, with whom he studied at Mannes and whom he credits with teaching him how to play Chopin.
In his opener, the graceful Waltz in A-Minor, Op. 34, No. 2, Gusev’s idiomatic use of rubato, and signal independence of right and left hands, bespoke his studies with Evans, whose Arbiter label issued CDs remastered from early 20th-century recordings of great pianists trained in the 19th century. The rhythmically freer style, with emphasis on the left hand, and on rhetorical “conversations” among voices, comes across especially well on European pianos.
Gusev played each half uninterrupted by applause, sustaining the music’s spell. In the Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1, Gusev ably conveyed the dramatic contrasts between the lyrical opening and closing sections; in the passionate mid-section, he capitalized on the Erard’s clearly articulated bass register, and liquid high treble.
The Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38 again showcased Gusev’s virtuosity, with sharp contrasts between its sweet and its stormy passages, and plenty of well-delineated interplay among registral voices.
The well-known Mazurka in B Minor, Op. 33, No. 4, an example of Chopin’s love of this Polish dance form, provided Gusev with more opportunities for rubato, color, and some especially lyrical melodies in the high treble.
The Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 with its tumultuous start, and almost chaotic ending, bracketing the tender recurring theme from the Polish Christmas lullaby carol, Lulajze Jezuniu, closed the first half. What must this melody represent, from among Chopin’s childhood memories?
As the Scherzo ended, shouts of “Bravo!” ensued, with a few listeners immediately jumping to their feet. Gusev himself seemed to take a moment to return to the present, like someone awakening from a compelling dream. This seemed logical; Gusev plays as though totally absorbed: body, mind and soul. Much of the time, his eyes are closed, or, if open, appear not to be seeing his actual surroundings. This seems his natural way of playing rather than an affectation.
After a brief intermission (during which audience members prevailed upon the pianist to remove his formal black jacket for the second half, given the warm temperature in the hall), the concert continued with the Barcarolle in F-sharp Major, Op. 60, a work well-suited to the Erard’s liquid tones.
Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58 calls for a tremendous range of pianistic effects: The first movement, Allegro maestoso, begins with a majestic passage, followed by a sublime treble melody, which turns rhapsodic. The Scherzo, molto vivace features nimble finger work alternating with lyrical sections. The Largo’s stately beginning is followed by lovely cascading sequences in the right hand, then a sort of promenade, and ends with a sweet melody that tapers off to a whispered pianissimo. The Finale, Presto non tanto, offers both passages of striving urgency, like someone contending against powerful forces, and fleet scale runs over the compass of the instrument. Gusev clearly satisfied his listeners on all counts. They called him back for two encores, both Opus Posthumous: Mazurka in A minor, B.140, À Emile Gaillard, and Mazurka in A Minor, B.134, Notre Temps.
This concert, and Ivan Gusev’s two previous performances on the Historical Piano Concerts Series can be streamed HERE on “Music from the Frederick Collection” free of charge.