Doting father Ashkenazy turns spotlight on sons in unprecedented concert

The Philippine Star, 12 March 2010

Doting father Ashkenazy turns spotlight on sons in unprecedented concert

Everyone must have wished the great Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy to play at least a solo number. He had reached the zenith of his career in the 70s and 80s; the range of his repertoire was then staggering. He was still eagerly sought-after when he turned, in the last 20 years, to conducting, wielding the baton, up to the present, over major orchestras. His piano career has thus seen more auspicious days.

For this presumed reason, and for being a doting father, he virtually retreated into the background, allowing his sons – clarinetist Dimitri and pianist Vovka – to enjoy most of the spotlight in their recent CCP concert. Nevertheless, the brilliance and bravura of Vladimir in his Manila concert decades ago would still surface.

Witold Ludoslawski’s “Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Piano” was lean and concise in style, much of it aleatory and obviously partial to discords and atonalities, particularly in the opening and closing allegro molto. Young clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy, evidently a master of his instrument, interpreted the tricky, unpredictable piece with admirable breath control and fleet fingering from which emerged fascinating dynamics. His father, pianist Vladimir, served as assisting artist, as he did in the initial composition, Schumann’s “Three Romances Op.94”, playing the latter’s outer movements – slow, soft, sedate and subdued – with insight and exquisite restraint. The inner movement was infused with life and spirit, the romantic and lyrical eloquently etched in all three movements by pianist and clarinetist.

In Poulenc’s “Sonata”, the movements – allegro tristamente, romanza, allegro con fuoco – dramatically contrasted with each other as duly expressed by the duo. Long, extended melodic lines alternated with short, vigorously accented ones, these in fast and furious tempo. The piece was typically Poulenc, described as “witty, satiric, whimsical and occasionally impudent”. The duo, in perfect, incredibly flawless rapport, created sparkling music that magnetized, the tightest ensemble work reflecting its oblique twists and turns.

Of Schubert, it has been written: “Melody came more easily to him than speech”. His flowing, charming, inexhaustible melodies, the earmark of his songs, likewise characterize his Divertissement a l’hongroise in G Minor, largely inspired by Hungarian dances. In this composition, as in Ravel’s La Valse (both arranged for two pianos), the listener gained the impression — except for the augmented, magnified sounds produced by two pianos — that a single pianist was playing. Chords, runs, trills, arpeggios were executed by Vladimir and Vovka with such unified precision that the music seemed to emanate from a single piano!

Ravel’s La Valse is strikingly different in its basic structure, melodies, modulations from those in Schubert’s Divertissement. Schubert, gifted with the richest lyrical endowment, and Ravel, totally objective in his approach to music, are worlds apart. Yet, I repeat, the startling interpretation of both works gave the impression that only one pianist was producing vivid tonal colors in a ravishing, arresting manner. Duo pianists, henceforth, should draw lessons from the unprecedented “togetherness” of the Ashkenazys.

The full house roared its approval after every selection, as well as at concert’s end. Vladimir, silver-haired and slightly stooped, and his sons, both good-looking and taller than he, graciously acknowledged the ovation, with Vladimir briefly holding Dimitri in a tight embrace.

As spokesman, Dimitri told the story behind the forthcoming encore piece. Contemporary Russian composer Nicolai Morozov, a family friend, wove the composition around a goat and its caretaker, an old woman. One day, the goat, having strayed from his familiar surroundings, was devoured by a wolf, this leaving only the victim’s horns and hooves. With the clarinet blaring the goat’s cry, and the two pianos echoing it in sharp accents, the amusing miniature “Grandma Had a Gray Baby Goat” garnered even more thunderous applause.

CCP President Isabel C. Wilson gave prefatory remarks. Uwe Morawetz, founding chair of the International Peace Foundation, pointed out that the evening’s concert was part of the Third Asean “Bridges-Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace.”