New York — At the age of 18, Andrei Gavrilov won the gold medal at the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow -- the first Russian to win that honor outright. A few years later, he made his US debut at the Newport Music Festival in Rhode Island. Then came the post-Afghanistan cessation of cultural exchange. Happily, he has recently left the Soviet Union for an indefinite period, without actually having had to defect. The direct result of that action was the present US tour, and his Carnegie Hall debut in New York. Mr. Gavrilov's career has been, in essence, built by recordings -- two stirring solo discs and performances of concertos by Ravel (For the Left Hand), Prokofiev (First), and Tchaikovsky (First). Two new releases -- devoted to works of Rachmaninoff (EMI/Angel DS-38158) and Scriabin (EMI/Angel DS-38161) -- put the basics of Mr. Gavrilov's appeal clearly in focus so that the excellence of his recital last Sunday came as no surprise.
He chose an all-Chopin program to lay his pianistic cards on the table -- the four Ballades, six of the Op. 10 'Etudes, and the Second Sonata (B-flat minor, Op. 35). It was clear during the first ballade that Mr. Gavrilov is a large-scale pianist who tends to reach out and embrace his audience rather than bring them into a contained musical vision. He deals in a wide dynamic range, and yet the introspective moments have a beauty, a simplicity, and a communicative thrust that set him apart from just about anybody in his age group today.
The Ballades, which opened the program, were not the ideal ``warm-up'' group, and some of the trickier passages found him a bit finger-tied. But the rhapsodic undercurrent all these works demand -- and don't necessarily receive -- was brilliantly sustained. And if there were any lingering doubts about his technique, Mr. Gavrilov dispelled them with stupefying ease in the six 'Etudes.
For this listener's tastes, the Sonata was rather too driven and frenetic an affair. The nervous tensions of the first movement erupted with a jarring angularity; the Scherzo passed by as a wild, proto-Lisztian nightmare; the ``Marche fun`ebre'' built to brittle climaxes. Yet, invariably, when his wrestlings took him to the brink of musical irreparability, he would come to a slower, quieter section. Then the ideal balance between tempo, dynamics, and phrasing was unfailingly hit, and the ache and pathos -- and the sheer poetry -- of the music cast its bewitching spell.
Yes, there are rough edges in his playing. But Mr. Gavrilov is not yet 30. He is willing to take risks. Sometimes they don't pay off. Other times they are refreshingly startling. On occasion the tone gets harsh, but usually even the climaxes ring out with a richness and fullness of tone. And that quiet playing is incomparably beautiful, and moving. A few years playing in the West, listening to other pianists, working with a variety of conductors, and he will find the way to harness the wildness to better effect. But clearly, here is an exceptional talent.
If Mr. Gavrilov is the fiery orator of the keyboard, Murray Perahia is the gentle persuader. His Carnegie Hall recital debut was a model affair -- a program well chosen to his strengths. Chopin closed his program, the Third Sonata (B-minor, Op. 58), and Mr. Perahia's reading encompassed all the aspects of his playing we have come to expect and cherish. He views the keyboard first and foremost as a lyric instrument; he is more fascinated with the quieter dynamics than he is with the loud; he is a musician of utmost taste and refinement; he deftly balances the emotional and the structural elements of a piece; he possesses an unerring sense of the scale of each piece and delineates it effortlessly. At all times, one is aware of a pianist so amply gifted in technical facility that he can tailor a moment of high virtuosity to specifically musical -- rather than self-serving -- purpose.
His rendering of the Beethoven F-minor (Op. 57) ``Appassionata'' sonata looked more back to Mozart and Haydn than ahead to the late sonatas and was the more lyrically rewarding for it. Others have found more angularity in the Bartok Suite for Piano, Op. 14, but few the haunting beauty; rarely has the quiet fifth piece sounded so much a part of the suite. And could Mr. Perahia find a more felicitous program-opening composer than Mendelssohn? The F-sharp minor Fantasy proved an ideal warm-up as well as a lovely piece in its own right. In all, an evening where the music, rather than the personality, held front stage.
Maurizio Pollini's two New York recitals (one each at Carnegie and Avery Fisher Halls) found him in unusually reverential form. The programming couldn't have been more mainstream -- Beethoven/Schubert (Carnegie) and Schumann/Chopin (Avery Fisher). The general attitude couldn't have been more determinedly serious -- almost grim. And yet much of the playing was beautiful, and throughout, his ability to control a phrase and sustain a point of view without sounding pedantic proved that this was still Pollini in form. Among the higher points were a Beethoven ``Moonlight'' (Sonata Op. 27, No. 2) -- superbly controlled, cast in delicate hues in the first movement, and contained virtuosics in the Presto agitato. His Schubert (C minor Sonata, D. 958) was large in scale, handsomely gauged in all its effects, and clearly showing us the debt Schubert owed Beethoven here.
At Avery Fisher Hall, he was more aloof than serious, which undermined Schumann's ``Ges"ange der Fr"uhe.'' Even the ``Davidsb"undlert"anze'' had an overbearing objectivity that prevented the listener from entering the dramatic world of the 18 pieces and, oddly, seemed to obliterate any sense that these pieces are, after all, all dances. But that objectivity did aid his performance of Chopin's Second Sonata, which closed the program. Once in a while, it is refreshing to hear such a logical musical mind put to bear on Chopin, as an alterative to the emotional excesses or mindless digital dazzlings too often the norm these days.