There was a special air of excitement at Carnegie Hall as two of today's hottest young talents made appearances within a couple of days of each other. The controversial one was Yugoslav pianist Ivo Pogorelich, in a program that stretched with ease from Bach to Prokofiev. The skyrocketing one was Russian-born conductor Semyon Bychkov, adding still more glow to his reputation in a fine Carnegie debut. It's hard to say whether the debate over Pogorelich is fueled more by his music or his manner. The show starts before he plays a note, as he saunters to the piano with rock-star insouciance, his Byronic looks setting the mood for an expressive evening. He's not a flashy player, but he knows how to milk a final chord for all the drama it's worth, and he isn't above darting an ironic gaze at listeners who dare applaud before he's ready to relinquish the last good vibration.
To my ears, his Carnegie recital was rich but not consistently so. The virtuoso passages were stunning, especially in the Presto finale to Chopin's B-flat minor Sonata, Op. 35; and he worked wonders of sound and feeling with such warhorses as the ``Funeral March'' from that work and Beethoven's gentle ``F"ur Elise.'' Other essays into poesy didn't fare so well, though: Portions of Beethoven's Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, and Bach's third English Suite were slack and unengaging. It's clear that Pogorelich is a young giant; not so clear is whether he is pointed in the best direction for continued growth.
Semyon Bychkov seems poised to enter the front rank of conducting. His first season with the Buffalo Philharmonic has earned wide attention, as have his guest appearances, and he has been mentioned as a prime candidate to succeed no less a titan than Herbert von Karajan at the Berlin Philharmonic.
In short, the eyes of the world are on him, and everything he did at Carnegie Hall justified the fuss. First came a vigorous ``Bartered Bride'' Overture and a gorgeous Saint-Sa"ens Cello Concerto. Then he offered his reading of Shostakovich's monumental Fifth Symphony, meeting its technical challenges and emotional complexities with spirit and subtlety.
Bychkov has reportedly done much to revivify the Buffalo orchestra, both musically and organizationally, and the results of his efforts are plain to hear. It will be a pleasure to watch the further blossoming of his career.