Starting from Schumann’s Arabesque, Bozhanov will guide us through the ‘heavenly length’ of the last sonatas of Schubert, stopping at the already known from the Chopin Competition, but now certainly quite differently ‘illuminated’, interpretations of the late masterpieces of Chopin: Nocturne in B major (Op. 62) and Sonata in B minor.
In this years’ August recital, during a friendly Festival Chopin and His Europe (see an enthusiastic review of a music journalist Dariusz Marciniszyn on our website: https://www.polskieradio.pl/326/6378/Artykul/2359658,Pianistyczne-misterium), a Bulgarian genius convinced many of us that he has all the right to openly aspire to be considered one of the greatest living pianists. Don’t you believe? See for yourself by listening to the live recital in Antonin or on Radio Chopin. You will not regret it!
When a few months ago, in the Chopin and His Europe festival program I read that Evgeni Bozhanov intended to perform Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt, I could hardly believe it. I perfectly remember how a Bulgarian pianist, well-known from his fairly eccentric behavior, changed his program just half an hour before his recital in Duszniki in 2015. Recently, impatiently awaiting his performance, I subconsciously wondered if I would hear the masterpiece of Liszt in such a highly anticipated interpretation
Evgeni Bozhanov intrigued me with his pianist's imagination as early as 2009 when he fully revealed his outstanding potential at the hearings of Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in the USA. A year later, the pianist phenomenally performed during the XVI International Fryderyk Chopin Competition. Unfortunately, the artist did not withstand the final pressure, falling in the last stage far below the expectations of the music lovers.
It is worth noting that the Warsaw listeners could have enjoyed the play of Bozhanov already 5 years earlier if only the honorable jury had passed the Bulgarian pianist into the first stage of the 2005 Competition.
However, it was a year later, when, for the first time, the artist made me think of him as one of the greatest living pianists. It is all thanks to his electrifying interpretation of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz he presented as the final piece of his recital during the festival Chopin and His Europe. Bozhanov then proved that this work did not need to be read either in a purely technical or exaggerated, intellectual way. The pianist achieved much more; the articulation and agogic ideas he used, made me look at that piece of music from a completely different perspective.
Four years later, during his two Polish recitals, I was even more delighted. No wonder that the very thought of hearing Liszt's sonatas in his interpretation loomed large in my mind.
However, Bozhanov’s recital started with the interpretation of the ten Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Already in the first miniature, the pianist showed his original approach to phrasing, giving prominence to the melodic-harmonics factors and controlling the musical time. In the sonatas that followed, the pianist sought to introduce various types of expressive and agogic contrasts; all these to give each of the pieces an individual character. Interestingly, Bozhanov, in an unexpected way, approached the final Sonata in F minor K. 466 (he had performed it also at the Warsaw recitals 4 years before). In contrast to that extremely lyrical interpretation, this year's concept brought to mind a free improvisation, full of many unexpected dynamic gradations and agogic fluctuations.
The next point on the program, the selection of miniatures from the Children’s Notebook of Mieczysław Wajnberg, turned out equally interesting, although the artist limited to some extent his coloristic temper, which proved, however, to be a fully justified procedure. Still, it is a pity that Bozhanov took those four miniatures out of their original context. The Wajnberg cycle is, on one hand, a tribute to neoclassical simplicity and exemplification of the composer’s musical language, on the other.
The first part ended with a soft, lullaby-like performance of Andante sostenuto from Symphony no. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms, in the arrangement of Max Reger. The artist might have deliberately soothed the narration with an intention of preparing the listener for a full of re-evaluations interpretation of Sonata in B minor by Liszt.
Finally, the long-awaited moment has come! It is difficult for me to refer in a few words to such a brilliant interpretation. The pianist surprised me whenever possible, never losing control of tempo, sound modelling, and presentation of key harmonic structures. Moreover (which might have never been previously attempted at by anyone else) Bozhanov was able to create an extremely individual concept, depriving the work of greater dynamic climaxes. It can therefore be said that the form architecture has been based, almost exclusively, on numerous changes of tempo and accentuation of selected, often secondary, harmonic and rhythmic structures. For the first time since the hearing of a concert recording of Vladimir Horowitz of 1976 (released in 2015 by Sony), I listened with such a curiosity to the epilogue of the Liszt’s work. The artist has dramatically changed tempo, phrasing, articulation, and pedalization, which, in many respects, brought him closer to the congenial concept of Horowitz. In this place, I must admit that I might have consciously ignored half of the artistic ideas offered to us by Bozhanov; so many of them there were…
As the first encore, the pianist performed Chopin’s Polonaise in B flat major, Op. 71, No. 2, certainly triggering heart palpitations in the purists and supporters of more canonical interpretations present in the audience. That, to some extent, revolutionary concept, fell to my liking and immediately brought to mind a non-orthodox interpretation of Mikhail Pletnev during the 2006 Chopin recital (the Amsterdam performance is available on YouTube). However, Bozhanov ended his recital on a quiet note. The artist said goodbye to the Warsaw audience with the song Morgen (Morning) by Richard Strauss in its piano transcription.
What we were offered by Bozhanov, makes me regard him as one of the most prominent living pianists. Now, with great impatience, I look forward to the October recital of the Bulgarian pianist, closing the 2nd Polish Radio Chopin Festival.