REVIEW: Strong piano individuality – recital of the Turkish artist Husein Sermet at Ohrid Summer Festival

When an artist’s biography includes their education in Paris in the most prestigious schools, the Paris conservatory and “Ecole Normale de Musique”, and that they studied the piano and composition from historically legendary individuals, like the pianist Tierry de Brunoff (student of Alfred Corto) and Nadya Boulanger (yes, the “Paris teacher” of the greatest composers of the 20th century), that educational genesis simply inspires a special respect and makes you yearn to hear that artist. Besides that, the need to discover new music tendencies from the 21th century is modern, but we bow before a classic concert with a “timeless” programme contents: Bach, Beethoven, Liszt. Briefly, those were the direction before the solo recital of the renowned Turkish pianist Husein Sermet within the 62nd Ohrid Summer Festival.

The choice from the Bach’s Preludea and fugue, No.1 in C major and No. 22 in B minor from the first book “Well-tempered piano”, the Beethoven’s Sonata op.109 in E major and H minor – Sonata by Franz Liszt as a programme choice is quite of a challenge, because those are very popular pieces from the classical piano literature that are often played… at exams, at competitions, at concerts… “everyone” plays them… “everyone” knows them. With little deviations, these pieces are usually to be heard in some established concept, perception and interpretation. The articulation and dynamics are defined, and it is also known what are the “allowed and predicted” tempo and agogics. But, when on stage comes an artist with an outstanding artistic individuality making eclusions to the traced paths, then the well-known pieces get a new look. Such an artist is Husein Sermet: unconventional, authentic, innovative. Opening the concert with the Bach’s Prelude in C major in an incredibly slow tempo (almost as if the tempo mark was Grave), the pianist attracts your attention and you immediately recognize that you have an unusual journey ahead. The popular theme for the Gounod’s “Ave Maria”, Sermet performed with a deep-thought approach, pacing each tone and showing the whole luxury of the harmonious richness, hidden in the genius repetitive, but majestic simplicity of Bach. As a perfect contra – punct we heard the four-voice fugue with an exaggerated legatissimo sostenuto articulation, thus at each theme emergence (symbolic 24 times), with eliciting a wide spectrum of piano colours, the piano in the church sounded amazingly as a vocal ensemble. The following composition, even more impressively, was a representation of the contrast between the elegant Prelude and the fugue in five voices (upgraded on the “laconic” theme). This fugue, undoubtedly is one of the most complex realizations of the Bach’s polyphonous style in general, in which the author finds the source at the earlt Reneissance masters. Husein Sermet performed the timeless composition with a masterly dosed balance between the firm framework of the score and his own sensibility, without a trace of pathetics, getting into all the depths of the bach’s geniousness. A remarkable trace in the interpretation of the Bach’s music, the pianist Husei Sermet, besides the deep “bringing” of the themes, is the expressive step-by-step approach which he uses to create the climaxes in the fugues, which makes him fully bring the power of the central form in the music Baroque.

As for the Beethoven’s Sonata op.109, one of the latest and most complex piano “structures” of the composer, specific by the original interpretation of the sonata “rules”, in terms of its form, dynamism and originality (first movement, relaxed, second movement – sonata form, third movement – variations in a romantic manner), we would notice that those hidden attributes of this unique piece by Beethoven ideally correspond the imaginative spirit of the pianist Sermet. The liberal form of the sonata perfectly gives him space to show his fascinating range of creations, which he possesses as a musician snd innovator. In the first movement we heard that intimate, lyrical trace in the Beethoven’s music character, the second one – firm structure of a sonata movement and the last, a meditative theme with six outstandingly different variations as the strongest point to the whole Sonata, through which Sermet led us with an impeccably mastered technique, convincingly showing all Beethoven’f finesse (dynamically sudden contrasts and notable agogics, specific for his late creative period). In the last movement, in the variations, the pianist elicited an incredible colour palette and piano colours in the theme of the first two variations, energetic technical superiority and virtuosity in the dynamic variations. The clean and precise playing and the convincing interpretation of the polyphonous texture in the fourth variation only finished the shaping of the picture that we heard at the Bach’s fugues – he is an artist who extracts the necessary philosophic depth of the polyphony. Simply, that was a powerful, contemporary interpretation of Beethoven.

As the last composition at the concert we heard the Sonata in H minor by Franz Liszt – a perfect completion of the evening. In this (very controversial and revolutionary piece for his time), the pianist Husein Sermet pointed out that he understands temporality as something relative, and he allows himself those overly exaggerated agogical (for those who defy Liszt’s style) pathetic, endless phrases to prolong even more. Seen from a pianist angle, this composition is full of wide “arsenal” of techniques, a complete manifestation of Liszt’s rough temper – extreme fortissimos, octaves, bravurous passages… which, again, Husein Sermet performed technically solidly, but with an uncompromising personal impact. “Encore” to the recital was the composition Impression for piano No.2 – “Little Shepherd” by the Turkish composer Ulvi Camal Erkin, about who Sermet underlined that he is his first piano teacher when he was a child.

We will allow, as someone who has fully studied and played each tone from the performed compositions (from the source of the French piano school through the interpretations of the respected prof. Stela Sleyanska, remembered with a great piety) to point out that the perception for the performance of the pianist Husein Sermet is very layered and impressive. At the stage of St Sophia we had the honour to hear a mature artist in whose interpretation ine can simply feel the year-long concert experience, but also a wire perception and creativity of a prolific composer. His performance is unique. What is notably visible is his skillfulness he uses at shaping each tone, each phrase from the scores. It is a pleasure to be part of the artistic creation this artist makes with a special “raffinment” characteristic for the outsprings of the French piano school. In his interpretation  it is simply notable that this is an outstandingly rich artistic character with a wide spectrum of visions for music, but also life in general, composing, conducting, and we are not surprised that the artist enjoys an equal recognition in all continents bots as a composer and a pianist with remarkable piano individuality.

And yes… only such artists can intrigue you to go into details in their way of performing. The performance is a provocation, nothing in the performance is exaggerated or tasteless, because he plays simultaneously with a mathematical precision and with an almost reckless romantic expressiveness, which cannot let you unstirred. Only great artists can afford such style, those who stand behind their music creation firmly, with their whole artistic background.

Performances of artists such as Husein Sermet are gift for the art lovers.

Vikica Kostoska Peneva