There’s no doubting that Eldar, surname Djangirov, has a very considerable command of the piano. On Oscar Peterson’s “Place St. Henri” from the Canadiana Suite, he switches very expertly from a creative adaptation of Peterson’s opening section to the pure stride piano passages, and with even more ease of transition than Peterson on the original recording. The changes Eldar makes in playing the complex composed sections of “Place St. Henri” aren’t necessarily to be attributed to conventional technical limitations. There are some things only Peterson can play, which is another matter.
Then there’s Eldar’s astonishing refinement of touch and phrasing, on a second number (“Interlude #1”) following an opener rather along the lines of a 20th century piano concerto’s concluding and very jazz-influenced final movement (there is an orchestra here, produced by electronics).
Moving on, the curious thing about the fourth number in the programme, the elderly standard “Out of Nowhere”, is that it sounds like nothing so much as a succession of possible dead slow codas to a ballad performance of the number. The music starts slow and gets slower, and quieter, and when the suspicion has been sown that the music’s about to stop, it doesn’t. It resumes, as if (or maybe because) the harmonic structure of the theme has been going on all the time in Eldar’s mind. It’s a fairly remarkable technical feat, this continuous extremely slow performance.
Other examples of the delicate touch alternate with other semblances of concerto movements for piano and electronics, a sometimes fairly loud big number is followed by a bagatelle, and then comes another biggie, with the exception of the Peterson.
Unfortunately, while Eldar has the grand pianist equipment to match the grand piano, there’s not a lot of musical variety in either the fringe-of-jazz large scale or the intimate playing. Too often Eldar is playing fill-ins, very much virtuoso, within the electronic score. There is one startling piano-bass-drums entry into an electronic score, but as so often happens with sets of almost entirely the performer’s own compositions, there’s a lack of strong material. It’s individualized, and all too liable to fall into mannerisms. Samey. There is often more real individuality in performers working with others’ material than with their own, because the originals frequently don’t afford the same opportunities to do anything really new. If the originals are insufficiently differentiated one from another, there’s nothing for the imagination, far less re-imagination, to work on. Otherness stimulates, its absence just perpetuates itself, however athletic or virtuoso the playing.
For all Eldar’s devising of different approaches to the non-stride sections of the Peterson composition, that long track affords scant evidence of improvisational stamina. There’s a rapid succession of key changes here and there, but that’s hardly more than an exhibition of technique. The same applies in a burst of pastiche McCoy Tyner in the middle of the Peterson music. It just spills out, without mental rather than finger control.
At odd times on different numbers, the bassist helps with decent and driving solo work, but the lack of inspiration, and really the lack of things to say, does bring down this lively and powerful and very variously-equipped pianist’s recording, along with the stock problem of poor originals.
I see that Eldar’s enormous technique is one of the selling points or occasions of praise for his work, but it really is bizarre when one admirer likens his rapid playing to the compositions of Conan Nancarrow. He certainly means those things Nancarrow prepared for often greatly speeded-up delivery from mechanical pianos — more notes than any human hands could evoke from a physical keyboard. Eldar, on the other hand (or pair of hands), has a command of touch well beyond anything possible in that department. I am reminded a little of Leopold Godowsky’s Chopin recordings, which suffer from excess digital dexterity. He couldn’t slow down enough to manage phrasing, intonation, and the rest. I prefer Simon Barere, the label of one of whose records of a prestissimo composition assured buyers that it was exclusively the work of a pair of human hands. Barere was a great musician, and wouldn’t touch a piano for days or weeks before a concert, rather than be overpowered by a technique gone mechanical. Eldar is too near empty virtuosity.