Dmitri Zhgenti made the most of his appearance with the Vancouver Symphony, delivering a riveting performance of Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto. This was Zhgenti’s second time with the orchestra. Two years ago, he made a smashing debut with Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto. This time around, he enthralled the near-capacity audience at Skyview Concert Hall on Saturday afternoon (November 3) with all too rarely heard piano concerto by the great Armenian composer.
Zhgenti showed complete command of the piece right away, articulating arpeggios with precision and feeling, leaning into some notes to bring out the emotion of the music, and playing with plenty of power to be heard over the full-sized orchestra, which was under the baton of music director Salvador Brotons.
His expressed the first big cadenza with elegance, creating a slightly mysterious mood. After the orchestra rejoined him, he executed passages that seemed to leap about wildly – augmented by a fast filigree of notes.
In another extended cadenza, Zhgenti’s sound emerged out of the depths, followed by a rhapsodic theme that raced high and low on the keyboard. He executed crunchy chords a series of complex sounds, which separated into another speed-braking segment that was very exciting.
Zhgenti wonderfully brought out the pensive qualities at the beginning of the second movement. He expressed the big stentorian themes and incisively ran the tables on a massive run that seemed to use all of the keys. The accompaniment of the wiggly-high-pitched flexatone and the ruminating bass clarinet created an oddly appealing vibe with the piano and orchestra.
The third movement with its very fast tempo was handled with panache by Zhgenti and wrapped up the piece with a grand enthusiasm that brought the audience to its feet.
For an encore, Zhengti replayed some of his parts from the concerto, demonstrating how the dissonance and some of the sadness in the music reflected the anguish of the Armenian people, which the composer was well-aware of. After contrasting a passage that he felt was more playful with another that was very serious, he told us that he felt the composer was trying to convey that children should pay attention to what their parents.
With his outstanding performance, Zhgenti is carving out a name for himself as one of the premiere pianists in the area. It would be great to hear him again, perhaps with a little Mozart or something in a completely different style.
After intermission, the orchestra launched into Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”) with Brotons impressively conducting it from memory. Some flight intonation problems in the violins and a bobble or two from the French horns were minor quibbles in this very spirited performance. Dynamic contrast and good tempos made the piece very enjoyable with the Scottish-dance theme in the second movement a highlight. The clarinet duet in the third movement and the celebratory ending in the fourth, led by the horns, rounded off the piece joyously.
The “Roman Carnival Overture,” which began the concert, needed a quicker tempo to convey its festive atmosphere. Alan Juza’s English horn solo was a highlight with its melancholic and dreamy quality. But the joyful passages were sluggish. A little more zip would have given the piece more uplift.