Berezovsky is a prodigy, just one of Russia's many

November 04, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

You can't tell young Russian pianists nowadays without a score card.

It was only a few weeks ago that Evgeny Kissin performed the Tchaikovsky Concerto on a TV broadcast from Carnegie Hall; last Monday, Eldar Nebolsin played Chopin and Prokofiev at the Kennedy Center; and tomorrow afternoon, Boris Berezovsky will perform the ubiquitous Tchaikovsky with the Bolshoi Symphony at the Kennedy Center.

Berezovsky's recordings of Schumann, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Ravel and Liszt have so impressed Great Britain's prestigious Gramophone magazine that it calls the 25-year-old pianist, the first-prize winner of Moscow's 1990 Tchaikovsky Competition, "the truest successor to the great Russian pianists."

Whether it is Berezovsky -- or Kissin, Nebolsin or, for that matter, Lilya Zilberstein or Konstantin Lifschitz -- who deserves such a crown is arguable. What cannot be debated, however, is that Russia, the so-called "Mother of Pianists," has never sent so many prodigiously gifted youngsters to the West as it has in the last two or three years.

Did the dying Soviet Union, with its fabled system of musical education, produce its most brilliant crop of pianists in its final harvest?

"That's flattering to us, but I doubt it's true," comes the answer in flawless English from the London-based Berezovsky, who notes that the generation of Russian pianists born in and around World War I included Sviatoslav Richter (1915), Emil Gilels (1916), Yakov Zak (1913), Yakov Flier (1912), Victor Merzhanov (1919) and Rosa Tamarkina (1920).

"Richter and Gilels may be the only names Americans know, but they were all great talents," the pianist says. "The reason you have not heard of the others has nothing to do with their musical ability."

What distinguishes his generation from previous generations of Russian pianists, Berezovsky says, "[is that] we're free. We're the first generation that doesn't have to deal with the monstrosities of the Soviet system.

"When I first came to Great Britain in 1986 to compete in the Leeds Competition, I traveled with a KGB agent who watched everything and listened to every word," Berezovsky says. "For earlier generations, that was the situation every time they traveled. Even when they stayed at home, they had to look over their shoulders for fear that they might be betrayed for something they did or said. The situation was terrible, and many people couldn't adapt to it. I don't even like to think about the many talented pianists who simply drank themselves to death."

Berezovsky has better things to say about Russian piano training.

"Playing the instrument was taken seriously," he says. "There was a professional attitude from the beginning. The negative aspect was that some people trained too hard, burned-out and then discovered that they couldn't do anything else. The positive part was the acquisition of technique -- just knowing how to play the instrument, just being able to play the most difficult music easily. I know many pianists here [in the United States] who are wonderful musically, but it's too late for them to learn what they needed to learn when they were younger."

Boris Berezovsky

When: 3 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Tickets: $27-$40

Call: (202) 467-4600

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