After preliminary lessons with his mother, herself a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, from the age of six Gavrilov received lessons from Tatyana Kestner, a pupil of Alexander Goldenweiser. Always a compulsive and intense person, Gavrilov received his final training from Lev Naumov, who, claims Gavrilov, curbed his ‘ungovernable temperament’. Naumov prepared Gavrilov for the 1974 Tchaikovsky Competition in which he took first prize, and by the age of nineteen he was in a position to begin an international career. That same year he was invited to replace an indisposed Sviatoslav Richter at the Salzburg Festival; Richter in turn later invited Gavrilov to the Touraine Festival in France. Gavrilov’s London debut brought rave reviews for his stunning virtuosity, and his American debut was at the Newport Music Festival. This was followed by his debut in Germany with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and a tour, after which Gavrilov conquered Japan. The authorities in the USSR however were not pleased with Gavrilov’s behaviour, which included criticism of the musical political establishment. From 1979 Gavrilov was not allowed to leave the USSR, but by 1984 he was back in London astonishing critics with his performances of Scriabin and Rachmaninov. He eventually settled in Germany.
Gavrilov’s impetuous nature is well suited to the extrovert works of Russian Romanticism: Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 10 and Piano Sonata No. 8 Op. 84, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 23, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 and Balakirev’s Islamey. Early live recordings from 1974 show Gavrilov as a young firebrand with technique to spare; two years later he made an impressive recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 with the USSR Symphony Orchestra and Alexander Lazarev. Most of Gavrilov’s early recordings for EMI were of his Russian repertoire: the first concertos of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, Balakirev’s Islamey and Prokofiev’s Suggestion Diabolique. They are stunning in their virtuosity and represent the young Gavrilov at his best. Another excellent disc is of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4 Op. 30 plus some préludes and études recorded in 1984. However, some pianists become tired of playing only this type of music, and by the mid 1980s this was obviously the case with Gavrilov, as many reviews complained of his ferocity and lack of musical sensibilities. Around this time Gavrilov began to record a lot of Bach; in 1984 he recorded the complete French Suites for EMI and in 1986 all the keyboard concertos with the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields and Neville Marriner (he had also recorded these in 1981–1982 in Moscow with Yuri Nikolaeowski).
In the mid 1980s Gavrilov recorded some Chopin: the Études Op. 10 and Op. 25 as well as the four ballades and Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35. After recording Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 23 for EMI with Muti and the Philharmonia in 1979, Gavrilov recorded it again with the Berlin Philharmonic and Ashkenazy in 1988.
One wonders if Gavrilov was satisfied with many of his EMI recordings, as when he signed a contract with Deutsche Grammophon in 1990 he recorded again many works he had already recorded for EMI including Bach’s complete French Suites, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8 Op. 84, Suggestion Diabolique and Suite from Romeo and Juliet Op. 75, Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 35 and four ballades, and Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit.
Gavrilov’s best recordings are those from the late 1970s and early 1980s, particularly the discs of Rachmaninov and Scriabin solo music. Of the Scriabin disc The Gramophone said, in speaking of Gavrilov’s power and virtuosity, ‘…it is the controlled restraint with which he deploys these qualities that is most impressive, and elsewhere his playing has a contained eloquence, a refined lyricism and an ability to convey almost secret, private emotions that is ideally suited to the music.’
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).