Once in a while it’s great to be swept off one’s feet by a power as insubstantial as music: To lose oneself in a stream... a waterfall... an ocean of emotions that offer no definition, no description of what has just happened.
Such was the experience when a 31-year-old Russian playing Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto No. 2 shook us out of our everyday selves to be immersed in the magic of music coaxed out of the most eloquent of all musical instruments. Nikolay Khozyainov, outfitted in dazzling white, his blonde hair a mass of curls like an angel’s or a student prince’s, took curtain call after curtain call at Samsung Performing Arts Theater last Nov. 17, his audience yelling “Bravo!” and “Encore!” as if the world would end if he did not oblige.
They couldn’t help it, could they? For one, as I reminded my seatmates, it’s different when a Russian plays the music of another Russian. For another, on display at the concert was one of the most melodic, most emotional works of the Romantic piano repertoire, with a main theme conceived to shine like the phases of the moon, ruling the ebb and tide of tender and passionate, soulful and heartbreaking. Nikolay played the game to the hilt – technique! color! his remarkable “big sound” coming across loud and clear in a style and artistry deserving of a movie camera to record his every movement and virtuosity. As his fingers raced up and down the 88 in tender caresses or powerful outbursts, the audience could feel their hearts beating in accord.
Our own Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Grzegorz Nowak was accordingly inspired by the star of their show, a collector of awards and prizes since he was a child, who’s as much a celebrity in Germany where he resides, as in other cities in Europe and the US. Thank you, Cultural Center of the Philippines, for bringing Nikolay to Manila and letting us hear a fresh, invigorating version of no doubt the most popular of Rachmaninoff’s four piano concertos. Even to the most high-brow of Rach fans, his No. 2 is well-known as the source of that popular love song, “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” with or without lyrics.