Works by Scarlatti, Mozart,
Schubert, Liszt, Chopin,
Schumann and Moszkowski
Maxim Bernard (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5186898
Issuing a tribute to Vladimir Horowitz at the very least testifies to an “amour fou” for an artist once described by Martha Argerich as “the best thing ever to have happened to the piano". With the added risk of appearing presumptuous by wanting to “replay” the famous Moscow recital given by the pianist in 1986 (Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical DVD), the complete programme of which is repeated here by the Canadian Maxim Bernard. Yet without mimicking an exemplar who was in miraculous musical, pianistic and spiritual form in the twilight of his career, the young pianist succeeds in evoking the spirit and the style of Horowitz’ performance whilst also remaining himself.
Playing Mozart, Bernard makes his own an articulation which, paradoxically, is so precise right down to its tiny rhythmic irregularities and his rejection of curved fingers; he has a right hand with a singing fluidity, evokes the irresistible appeal of that fabulous Mozartian Horowitz and induces the same poignant nostalgia we are familiar with from a performance by Clara Haskil recorded live at Edinburgh in 1957 (Tahra). All the other pieces are played in a refined, fluent manner, with a perfect sense of narrative and a sovereign tone. This disc is deeply moving because to play the Sonata K. 330 in this way, plus Liszt’s Soirées de Vienne with such elegance and nostalgia, his Petrarch Sonnet No. 104 with such acuity and presence, Chopin’s Mazurkas with such rustic nostalgia and Moszkowski’s Étincelles so mischievously – ultimately, all that is pure Maxim Bernard.
Reproducing in the same order the programme with which Ukranian-born Horowitz returned to Russia in 1986, how audacious! This project was tricky, with acerbic tongues wagging before their owners had even listened to it.
But from the moment we hear the dreamy tone of Scarlatti's Sonata in B Minor, we know that this is a sincere tribute, and above all a subtle one.
Maxim Bernard is not out to copy. His own very assured taste is enough for him, yet he still evokes the refined touch, the broad spectrum of colours and even the whimsical mood, which were all part of Horowitz' genius.
Surprising, complete in very regard, finished to perfection, all the better to unleash the mood of the moment. In this respect Bernard's Mozart Sonata is prodigious, laughter-filled and reveals sublime pedal play, just as Horowitz liked it. But the young man is careful not to produce an imitation: he plays his own score. Is his only aim not to pale by comparison with his idol? If so, he has succeeded. This disc can be listened to over and over again; indeed, the relevance of his choices, the subtlety of his phrasing and the fascinating mirror he holds up to the Moscow recital make it impossible to put back on the shelf.
This brilliant mise en abyme is a real joy of piano culture and of intelligence; just listen to the way Schubert's Impromptu with Variations becomes a song without word, to the clicking heels in the Valse-Caprice from the Soirées de Vienne and above all to the two mazurkas, being danced despite their unprecedented modesty. And then there are those Étincelles by Moszkowski!
Is this the first disc by this young man? I am already looking forward to the next one.