Pianist and composer Farhad Badalbeyli is celebrating his seventieth birthday in a couple of weeks, and what better way to ring in the new decade than to perform a musical party of career highlights with the mighty Moscow Philharmonic.

Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F provided the undeniable main attraction of the programme, with Badalbeyli’s piano suitably sparkling and rhythmic, though in places stunningly melancholy and withdrawn. The utterly arresting, bombastic, nationalistic Amirov-Nazirova Piano Concerto on Arabic Themes opened the evening with a faux-nostalgic-exotic bang, bringing the composers’ and Badalbeyli’s Azerbaijani heritage to the fore.

As a composer, Badalbeyli had only one programmed item: his brief, Disney-luscious “Ave Maria” for Soprano (Kyara Izotton) and Tenor (Azer Rzazade). A triple encore also allowed the birthday boy to squeeze in some more of his hits (following wild applause). In addition to this vocal duet, Rzazade sang a mournful aria from Amirov’s Seville, and Izotton pulled off Leonora’s famous aria from Verdi’s La Forza del Destino with great skill and dramatic flair, met with thunderous applause long before she had stopped singing.

Badalbeyli still has breathtaking skill and magical emotive power, especially in the quieter moments. But this evening did show minor slip-ups and sloppiness running through every piece, nowhere clearer than in the finale, Rachmaninov’s Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, where Murad Adigizalzade’s robust and precise interpretation stood somewhat in contrast to Badalbeyli’s. Sensational from start to finish however was the Moscow Philharmonic (conducted by Yalchin Adigezalov, Fuad Ibragimov, and Eiyub Kuliev): booming with power; completely in sync; sensitive to the soloists, while still knowing when to battle for volume. This, and a great programme, made for a wonderful birthday party indeed.

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