By Michael Morton-Evans

It’s good to have Kirill Gerstein back in the country again after his successful season with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2019. He’s here to perform eight concerts around the country for Musica Viva, and as MV’s artistic director, Paul Kildea, says:” Gerstein’s fearless interpretations are sure to leave audiences reeling.” There’s no doubt this Russian-born, America ex-jazz pianist is out to entertain. I have dubbed him the Paganini of the Piano. Nothing on his eight work programme is simple from Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major at the beginning to Schumann’s Carnival of Vienna, a 22 minute pianistic tour de force at the end. The fingers never stop working and there’s hardly one of the 88 keys on the Steinway that he doesn’t visit.

As I say, the concert opens with the Chopin, an extremely complex work which sounds almost like an improvisation, which it probably started out as, but gradually grows and develops to a satisfying climax at the end.  This is followed by a three-minute work by Gerstein’s friend, Brad Mehldau, an American jazz pianist, called After Fauré Nocturne No 3. Not to my ears a success. The result is like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa, but happily we are quickly whisked to the real Fauré and his Nocturne No 13 in B minor, the last of the 13 nocturnes the French composer wrote. It’s a restless, driven work, but ends in a feeling of something approaching disappointment.

Next came three intermezzi by Francis Poulenc, beginning with the C major Presto con fuoco and once again Gerstein excels at the difficult fingerwork. The other two aren’t quite as hectic, but it’s fun to watch the cross-hands trickery left over right, right over left, that Poulenc sets the player.

The first half ends with the Polonaise in E major from Liszt. Liszt enjoyed taking other composers works and playing with their melodies or style, but he waited until after Chopin’s death before presenting his two polonaises. Whereas Chopin’s polonaises were proud, thoughtful musical statements, Liszts are rather more heroic. Superb playing again by Gerstein in the heroic vein..

After the interval came some real Chopin again, his Fantaisie in F minor, followed by another modern work from Australian composer, Liza Lim called Transcendental Etude. I’m generally not a fan of modern music. I liken it to modern architecture. It tends to stand out like a sore thumb beside its classical neighbours, and putting it alongside that composer of the 12 great Transcendental Etudes, Liszt, is, in my opinion, a mistake.

The concert ends with Robert Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien or Carnival of Vienna. This is one of Schumann’s more unusual works, divided into five movements, which makes it almost like a suite but not quite. It’s designed to capture the festive spirit and vibrant atmosphere of Vienna’s carnival, and once again Gerstein gives it every ounce of his impeccable technique.

Altogether it’s an exciting concert, rather like being on one of those terrifying fun fair whirlygigs and the good news is that there’s still time to catch it if you live in Brisbane, Adelaide or Perth.

Concert Hall, QPAC, Brisbane – 19 June 7pm

Adelaide Town Hall, Adelaide – 20 June 7.30pm

Perth Concert Hall, Perth – 23 June 6.30pm