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Andrei Gavrilov

A protégé of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, Andrei Gavrilov won the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition, revealing himself as, in the words of Harold Schonberg, "a virtuoso, sometimes an explosive one, who has Horowitz instincts that are not yet under control." Schonberg, reflecting much of the general feeling about Gavrilov, also expressed gratitude for the artist's temperament, an element notably missing from most of his supremely well-schooled, but more cautious contemporaries. In the years since he emerged as such a vivid personality, much remains the same: Gavrilov is still a brilliant artist who does not always command his unquestioned resources, however high the level of excitement. Gavrilov began his musical training with his mother, who stressed the need to search for emotional content in performance. By contrast, his second teacher, Tatiana Kestner, was a product of the German school and emphasized form and musical ideas rather than emotion. His official studies concluded with Lev Naumov, an esteemed pedagogue who imposed some order on his young student's unruly temperament. Winning the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition thrust Gavrilov into the international spotlight and he soon traveled abroad, first to Europe and, by 1976, to England and America. In spite of certain reservations harbored by critics, the public was ecstatic and responded with standing ovations in venue after venue. Gavrilov appeared with the leading orchestras and undertook a tour of Japan in 1979. While Soviet officials were delighted to show off their newest piano virtuoso, their pleasure was replaced by censure after reports of Gavrilov's critical remarks about the state of music in the Soviet Union reached their attention. Upon Gavrilov's return to Russia after his Japanese junket, he found his career at full stop. Only after a half-decade of intense difficulties and his eventual accommodation to the regime was he be able to resume his overseas appearances. Coincident with his new tours, both the critics and the public were quicker to comment on his eccentricities and exaggerations. Still, those who longed for the strong stamp of personality allied with an often-staggering technique continued to rate Gavrilov highly. Those not fortunate enough to see Gavrilov in person have had available a number of impressive recordings, among them a disc of Chopin's Op. 10 and Op. 25 etudes. His pacing is frequently hair-raisingly brisk, but a sense of poetry is never lacking. While Gavrilov's recording of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 released shortly after his Tchaikovsky Competition victory was rapturously acclaimed and won numerous awards, a remake with Riccardo Muti was much less successful, sounding like a compendium of the excesses and peculiarities noted in many of the pianist's live appearances. On the plus side again is Gavrilov's recording of Balakirev's tortuous Islamey, which is full of sweep, passion, and astonishing articulation. Gavrilov, rather surprisingly, has given some notable performances of Bach: the French Suites, concertos, and the Goldberg Variations were all committed to disc. After earlier recordings for a major label, Gavrilov was heard on disc in the 1990s as a part of the Edition Monastery Maulbronn. In the new millennium, Gavrilov's live appearances are still dramatic events. Favoring tunics for concert dress, long hair sometimes tied in a ponytail, he remains a highly physical artist, twisting and bobbing at the keyboard, gazing heavenward or staring at the audience. Still intensely Romantic in his playing, he remains a brilliant technician and, frequently, an illuminating artist.
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