Shrewsbury School

Galin Ganchev's recital at The Gateway Centre - Wednesday 30th May

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Although not strictly a School event, the success of the full-length recital given in Shrewsbury’s Gateway Arts Centre by Galin Ganchev (M 4) should be of interest to musically-minded members of the community.

The programme began with works by J.S.Bach, a composer about whom I have mixed feelings. It is unfashionable at least, and in the eyes of many, heretical, to say that I find much of his music mechanical and repetitive, but I mention this only to reinforce the effect of Galin’s stunning interpretation of the Chromatic Fantasia. Exploiting the power of the modern instrument and employing liberal rubato, this was Bach in the grand manner, Bach in the style of Liszt. No doubt a purist/puritan would have walked out. I found it thrilling, and it was only a pity that music of such imaginative impact should have to be followed by a fugue. Fugues are beyond redemption.

Having heard Ganchev in the first movement of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata, I anticipated something special in his first public performance of the finale. I was not to be disappointed. Rather it was the case that this was a reading of such electrifying intensity that words are inadequate to describe the experience. That he can play very loudly without ever sounding coarse, that he can take on and sustain a seemingly impossible prestissimo are accomplishments familiar from earlier acquaintance and both are essential to bringing off this rondo of stark contrasts. What made this occasion so memorable was the attention to detail in every bar, technical difficulty never getting in the way of bringing out the finest nuance, each a contribution to the overall structure.  Whether this is intuitive or calculated I know not, but I can say that I have never heard the like.

In introducing the second half, Gareth Jenkins, to whom we are indebted for bringing Galin to Shrewsbury, mentioned his protégé’s affinity with Chopin, the composer for piano. Of the five items scheduled, the highlight was the Scherzo (Op 31, not 32 as in the programme), which went far beyond the lightness of spirit suggested by the title. Conventionally, the contrasting themes are presented as complementing each other, opposing in balance rather than in conflict. Galin brought the second in so instantaneously as to sound like an interruption, an interpretation convincingly sustained throughout the entire piece. The development was a veritable civil war, the coda almost a riot, were it not that that might suggest loss of control. Nothing could be further from the truth, for, seemingly immune from error, the playing remained crystal clear, however hectic the writing. As in the Beethoven, thematic relevance was present – and could be discerned - in the densest of passages, the most dazzling of runs, the most thunderous of chords.

A standing ovation followed, and much wonder besides. “Only fifteen!” “How does he remember it all?” “Did you see those fingers?”  I would like to add a further compliment. As befits one visiting a centre for adult education, I came away from the concert with deepened understanding of the genius of Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin.

Martin Knox

Galin also performed Beethoven's "Waldstein" at the Wigmore Hall in February 2011, and a recording of this can be seen on You Tube:

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