A Remarkable Feat of Identification

A Remarkable Feat of Identification

Chetana Nagavajara

ANDREY GUGNIN is a regular visitor to our Thai musical circles, but his main audience seems to have concentrated in a small community of music lovers at Eelswamp (Nong Plalai) near Pattaya, operated by that indefatigable devotee and impressario Gregory Barton. His past appearances in Bangkok, both in solo as well as duo performances, were not so well attended. I remember his stunning interpretation of Franz Liszt’s ,,Etudes transcendentales” at the Siam Society, attended by a sparse audience of mainly non-pianists!

Last night’s recital at the Goethe-Institut marked a new departure. Noted Thai piano teachers were there with their pupils (who might have been drafted to hear the master!), and Pro Musica, the organizer, must have been surprised by a full house. Those present had every right to congratulate themselves for being there. It was the right strategy to have a varied programme, which was aptly called “Bach to the Future”.

The impression I gained from this unique exposure to very demanding piano music was that the range of emotions was immense and that music as an art form could unravel the secrets of human life in all its multifaceted complexity. Consequently, the range of styles peculiar to the individual composers and compositions was also equally challenging. Gugnin unquestionably rose to the occasion.  There is no need to talk about his technique: I don’t mean to say that we should take it for granted; on the contrary we should pay respect to the “Russian School” for having given him a darn good musical education. It was his interpretative power that came to the fore – in a programme ranging from Bach transcriptions by Busoni and Rachmaninoff via Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Scriabin, to Prokofiev.

I do not propose to address all the compositions that Gugnin performed. Suffice it to say that he did justice to them all. It was his Chopin that I found particularly engaging: it was so differentiated, and so   intimate, so humane, not a vehicle for pianistic prowess, but a meeting of minds and personalities between the composer and his interpreter, with the latter  i d e n t i f y i n g  himself completely with the former. This was music-making at its most sublime.

When Gugnin first came to Thailand, he had just won the Gina Bachauer Competition.  (and that particularly caught my attention, because I had the good fortune of hearing the distinguished Greek pianist live in Manchester when I was in my late teens.) He has since won the Sydney International Competition (parts of which I followed live on my computer with much excitement.) But I don’t think those credentials matter to us as much as his attachment to Thailand and to Thai audiences (who are now just about to wake up to his great artistry.)

You can take it from this old man: what we heard at the Goethe-Institut in the evening of 13 March 2019 was of comparable (if not superior!) calibre to what people usually hear at the Wigmore Hall in London or the Kammermusiksaal of the Berlin Philharmonie. Aren’t we lucky?

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