Young pianist Viktor Bijelovic has just released his second CD. After the one released in 2005, which, amongst others, saw a superior performance of a piece with the impressive technical demands of Liszt’s grand B minor Sonata, we now have an opportunity to hear this CD, entitled Empassioned, so called as the common thread running through all the pieces is passion, in different guises and to differing degrees, but always in its most noble forms and in marked performances. Apart from the central and effectively the “title” piece – the famous Apassionata, Chopin’s First Ballade also makes an appearance, in addition to Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody, all performed with a great deal of power and panache, as well as impeccable technique. In addition to those, as a contrast, there are also some pieces of most refined beauty, where Bijelovic’s skill of delicate singing lines and a very fine piano tone, and a well-conjured up nocturnal mood come to the fore – Gluck’s Melody (in the much romanticised Zgambati version), a Chopin Nocturne and finally Debussy’s Clair de Lune from the Suite Bergamasque. All in all – complete enjoyment!
Prof. Dejan Despic
Composer, Music Writer, Pedagogue
A member of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and Secretary of the Department of Fine Arts and Music
Empassioned, Viktor Bijelovic
Viktor Bijelovic may not yet be a familiar name in the world of classical music, but the young London-based Serbian pianist is one to watch. A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, he has accumulated a handful of prestigious awards, played twice for Prince Charles and appeared in major concert venues in the UK and overseas.
This, his second solo, released in July, is a cocktail of pieces that mean a lot to him – as he explains in his spoken introduction, a personal touch that establishes a connection between player and listener. The programme treads a safe path through standard classical repertoire, but is nicely varied, showcasing Bijelovic’s virtuosity.
Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 57, the Appassionata, reflects the composer’s deafness with rapid mood changes. Bijelovic infuses it with feeling, underpinned by a solid technique. In Rachmaninov’s Prelude Opus 23 No. 5 he is similarly bold, but in Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits from his opera Orfeo and Eurydice (arranged by Italian pianist Sgambati) and Chopin’s Ballade No. 1and Nocturne Op. 27 No. 1 he shows himself capable of great lyricism and beauty.
There may not be many surprises here, but Bijelovic’s playing is worth discovering. For classical music novices, this CD is an ideal introduction.
Nicola Lisle, Oxford Times, 07/09/2013
… Viktor Bijelovic’s recent CD, Empassioned, is an interesting mixture of selections, a collection that could almost work in recital, extending from Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” to a melody by Gluck and arranged for piano solo by Sgambati (the melody is the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice). In his introductory note, interestingly recorded onto the CD instead of printed in the jacket, Bijelovic states that the works on the CD are unified by a thread of passion, my passion for the music, the passion evident within the music. I’m not sure I like the idea of having the liner notes read to me, I think I would like to reserve that space on the CD for another work. Further, there is simply not enough information on the liner notes or in the introductory track, but this is unimportant because he has provided wonderful companion tracks over at Soundcloud. One wonders why they are not listed on the CD.
In this description of passion, Bijelovic is quite honest with his audience, his interpretations are remarkably passionate. The appropriately placed opening performance, Beethoven?s Op. 57, the “Appassionata” is a remarkable interpretation and my favourite in the collection. Charles Rosen once characterised this sonata as “almost rigidly symmetrical in spite of its violence, as if only the simplest and most unyielding of frames could contain such power”. As it proceeds around Beethoven’s unyielding frames, Bijelovic’s performance is, by acute turns, fierce, pathetic and ecstatic. There are moments where he takes brief liberties with the rhythm to emphasise an expression or motivic arch, but these are the idiosyncrasies that mark the performance with a clear authenticity. Bijelovic stated in the notes track that when he plays the “Appassionata” he imagines Beethoven with his teeth clamped on the piano lid. I’m not sure I would like to unpack that statement, but this image does seem to fuel Bijelovic’s interpretation. Other remarkable moments of the CD include a nuanced reading of Chopin’s first Ballade as well as a tight and remarkably precise rendition of Rachmaninov’s Prelude Op. 23, No. 5.
Joe Musicology, 04/09/2013
Like many musicians seeking a source of funding for projects, London-based Serbian pianist Viktor Bijelovic turned to Kickstarter for his second CD. Empassioned is a recital of music by Beethoven, Gluck (arranged by Sgambati), Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninov and Liszt. The disc has one distinctive aspect, the first track is a spoken one. At his concerts Bijelovic talks to the audience and introduces each of the works. This spoken narration is a brave attempt at reproducing this, as Bijelovic explains why he chose the pieces and how they are linked.
He opens with Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 57, Appassionata, one of the works Beethoven wrote in response to his increasing deafness (Beethoven started writing it in 1804, the year after he came to grips with the irreversibility of his deafness). The opening of the first movement, Allegro assai, is poised with the grumbling in the bass a gentle disturbance. After the first eruption, Bijelovic successfully alternates quiet poise with manic energy. His performance is very poetic, he doesn’t thump and the loud passages are vibrant rather than excessive. There is an impulsiveness to his playing with threads its way through the whole disc.
The piano has a clear, bright sound with a narrow tone and something of an edge to it, which gives great clarity to the textures and certainly does not impede the poetic line of Bijelovic’s playing. Though I have to admit that, in common with many modern pianos, I found the top rather glassy.
Bijelovic opens the Andante con moto with a fine singing tone and a lovely dark texture. Bijelovic’s rhythmic pointing increases as the theme develops, adding to the underlying disturbance, but he gives a very consoling undertow to the theme. With the final movement, Allegro ma non troppo – presto, Bijelovic brings in dark waves of passion underpinned by crisp articulation. But there is poised control as well and some very fine fingerwork. This is quite an extended movement but Bijelovic shows fine control of the overall structure and there is a brilliant ending.
I have heard darker readings of the sonata, Bijelovic’s performance is all about the impulsiveness of passion rather than the darker inner reaches.
Giovanni Sgambati (1841 – 1914) was an Italian pianist. His arrangement of the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice leaves Gluck quite a way behind, but the piece is lovely on its own terms. Bijelovic performs it with a poetic line and a fine web of decoration.
Chopin’s Ballade no. 1 was written in 1831 during his early years in Vienna, it is a work full of the loneliness of being far from home. Bijelovic gives a lovely long line to the introduction. His opening statement of the first theme has a haunting tenderness which Bijelovic hints at even through the later, more bravura passages. There is a fluency and delicacy to the decoration and again a feeling of impulsiveness.
Though Bijelovic plays with a finely graded, poetic tone, there is a toughness there too and the feeling that passion can explode in a moment. Bijelovic combines discipline and poetry in his playing with and admirable tendency not to grandstand.
A second Chopin work follows, the Nocturne Opus 27, no.1 (written in 1835) which is regarded by some commentators as a ballade in miniature. It is given with poetic melancholy by Bijelovic with a lovely use of rubato, and there are hints of the mazurka in the more dramatic middle section.
Claire de Lune from Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque (which Debussy started in 1890 when he was 28, but did not finish until 1905) is flowing and poetic but ethereal. Rachmaninov’s Prelude Opus 23 no. 5 (written between 1901 and 1903) is marked Alla Marcia. Bijelovic’s performance is redolent with drama and crisply dramatic rhythmic precision, alternating with flowing beauty. The result is very passionate but very controlled.
Finally Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (written in 1847) in a performance which typifies everything that we have heard so far, crisp rhythmic precision, rich drama and a wonderful impulsiveness which brings Liszts fantasy on Hungarian gypsy music to rich life.
And what of the first track? Bijelovic’s spoken introduction works remarkably well and brings the performer that bit closer. Wisely he has kept it on a separate track so that on repeated listening you can skip it, if you so wish. But I do hope that he continues with the experiment.
The pieces on the disc are all linked by passion in its many forms. Bijelovic responds with superb technical facility combined with a finely poetic impulse. Highly recommended.
Robert Hughill, Planet Hughill, 09/08/2013
Empassioned by Viktor Bijelovic : Beethoven/Chopin/Liszt
I don’t do a lot of CD reviews here because I try to keep things on a local level, but I’m getting more and more requests for them so I will likely relent and do more.
I’ve been listening to a lovely recital CD by a young Serbian pianist named Viktor Bijelovic. It’s just out this month and should be on sale shortly here in Lewes.
Mr. Bijelovic is young but he’s already won some prestigious competitions, played twice for Prince Charles and made several TV and radio appearances. This is his second solo piano CD, and hard won too, using a Kickstarter campaign to fund it. He’s clearly willing to put in the work to get his music out there. My hat’s off to him. It’s a hard road.
Recital albums as opposed to albums of single composer repertoire are a wonderful way to be introduced to an artist. As with this CD, you get about an hour of carefully chosen pieces that show off the artist to best effect, flowing the way a carefully programmed live recital does. Mr. Bijelovic has bravely chosen very standard repertoire here. I say bravely since he knows he will inevitably be compared to the very greatest players and in my humble opinion has managed it all very well.
I have to highlight the more Romantic repertoire here because I sense that is where his greatest talents lie. The subtle brooding mood of Beethoven may not be Mr Bijelovic?s best suit, yet it is totally enjoyable and technically beyond reproach (IMHO, as I’m not a pianist). However, the album really lifts off with the Chopin Ballade No. 1 and it sails energetically and passionately from there through the first Nocturne, a delightfully delicate Clair de Lune, a quick but fiery Rachmaninoff prelude (Opus 23, No. 5) and then ends by tearing the roof off the place with Liszt?s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
As added interest Mr. Bijelovic has recorded some little historical essays that he has written as companions to the CD. They are available for downloading or streaming from his SoundCloud site. For those looking for some easily available background on these works, it’s very useful, but I would have preferred more of an artist’s perspective on the pieces than a history, some personal insights or anecdotes that the artist is willing to share with us. Just my own preference but I suspect I’m not alone.
And a brief note on the recording quality. There is at times to my ears a slight brittleness in the upper register, not quite harsh but a bit too thin. It’s one of those things that should have been fixed with EQ when the album was mixed but if it bothers you it can easily be fixed with a slight adjustment to your treble control.
So, this a box of candy, no doubt, and one created with care and great skill. And while there’s nothing here to challenge the seasoned listener, if you’ve never heard some of the greatest and best-known piano pieces ever written, I envy you the experience of sitting down with this CD for the first time. I’m willing to bet that when it’s finished you’ll start it all over again. Sit back and enjoy. The CD is available from Amazon.co.uk and from iTunes.
Paul Austin Kelly, Lewes Classical, 26/07/2013
“Serbian pianist, Viktor Bijelovic’s new recording Empassioned, is an inspiring and innovative achievement. He combines his beautiful and thought provoking performances of well known works with fascinating explanations of the works included. All of this comes together to make a great listen which I thoroughly recommend.”
Jack Liebeck, Violinist Classical Brit Award Winner, Aug 2013
Viktor Bijelovic – Empassioned – **** (4 stars)
An album about passion, played with passion. Pianist Bijelovic chooses his favourite pieces and explains why each is important to him. His vision for classical music is that it should have a place in everyone’s life, that’s it’s about story-telling (spoken companion tacks can be downloded from his SoundCloud account). A delightful journey from Beethoven to Liszt via Chopin and Gluck. A joy.
Caroline Jowett, Daily Express, 26/07/2013
Planet Hughill – Review of Chopin and Liszt CD
Viktor Bijelovic is a young pianist, born in Serbia and resident in London since the age of 11. He already has prizes in quite a few competitions under his belt and having recorded this CD of Chopin and Liszt in 2011, he has plans for a new CD next year.
This disc was recorded in the Jacqueline du Pre Music Hall in Oxford. The programme combines Chopin with piano music by his contemporary, Liszt. The two had an awkward relationship. Chopin envied Liszt’s technique but found him frankly rather vulgar, with his showing off and his big piano sound. Liszt on the other hand envied Chopin’s far wider range of colours at the piano but found his technique lacking.
Bijelovic has chosen a group of Chopin pieces all, except for the Nocturne, written in Paris. From the beginning of the Ballade, no. 3 it is obvious that Bijelovic produces a lovely clear piano sound, and the recording generally avoids that rather hard glassy quality at the top end of the keyboard. The Ballade is beautifully flowing with a lovely feeling for line.
The Grande Valse Brillante, Op. 34 no. 1 opens with a nice call to action and then Bijelovic spins cascades of notes in the delicate waltz. The playing is poetic but not etiolated, and delightfully skittish. Valse, Op. 34 no. 2 is entirely different to its companion, Bijelovic opens with some velvety smooth playing which develops into melancholy languor.
In Nocturne No. 20, Op. Posth we get hints of the exotic amongst the fine tracery of notes, all controlled with subtle rubato. The Valse Op. 64 no. 1 is all lightness, charm and grace with its companion, Op. 64 no. 2 beautifully poetic.
Bijelovic’s account of the Polonaise Op. 53 brings out the work’s heel clicking grandeur, combined with nicely infectious and well pointed rhythms.
Dividing the Chopin from the Liszt is Bijelovic’s own arrangement of Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, the result of an exercise set in Keyboard Techniques lessons during his studies at the Royal Academy of Music. It is a complete delight and sits nicely (if surprisingly) in the programme.
Light fingerwork and brilliance characterise his performance of Liszt’s La Campanella, though here his is let down somewhat by the recording with the piano’s upper octaves sounding a little hard and glassy. For the Liebestraum no.3 Bijelovic finds a nice singing line of melody amidst all the surface glitter. And his technique is fully equal to the demands of the Hungarian Rhapsody no. 6, bringing out the hints of exotic gypsy sounds and full of rhythmic intensity.
Bijelovic has a strong technique which clearly encompasses all the demands of the pieces here, but in all these I kept coming back to the poetic nature of Bijelovic’s playing; and he strikes a fine balance, not too bloodless and not too muscular. Throughout he has a nice feel for the rubato needed, not self indulgent but not rigid either.
Robert Hughill, Planet Hughill Blog, 01/11/2012
Award-winning pianist Viktor Bijelovic returns to the Fringe for a short series of concerts at St. Cecila’s Hall. These are his first performances since his debut in 2010 and this particular appearance saw him join with violinist Magdalena Filipczak for two lunchtime concerts. Beginning with Brahms Sonata No. 3 for violin and piano, they quickly established both their skills as performers and their rapport as complementary musicians and friends.
The sound of Bijelovic’s prodigious piano playing blended beautifully with Filipczak’s violin as they took us through the four movements of the sonata. From the outset, both the musical choices and Bijelovic’s style proved that he was an incredibly generous performer. The first two movements of this sonata require the piano to take an accompanying role as the violin is placed at the forefront. Bijelovic’s opportunities to take centre-stage and show off his talents came soon enough, but he was a performer unafraid to let others shine. This made for both an exceptional and an endearing concert: it was hard not to be wrapped up in and be lifted by the music.
Playing together for most of the concert, Bijelovic and Filipczak led the audience through two further pieces – Despic’s Kostanina Pesma and Wieniawski’s Fantasie Brilliante on Gounod’s Faust before their encore. From soaringly beautiful, delicate moments, to more rousing or even humorous sections, they showed to its full extent how uplifting classical music could be. The historic surroundings of St. Cecilia’s added to the grandeur of the playing without overpowering the intimacy of the performance. Generous to the last, Bijelovic ensured at the encore that even his page-turner received applause, much to her delight. Deserving of a wider audience, Bijelovic is a performer at the height of his powers and an hour in his company shows how glorious classical music can be.
Alasdair Richardson, CDBaby.com, 24/08/2012
Guests took their seats in the Symposium Hall to hear a piano recital of the works of Chopin and Liszt by Viktor Bijelovic, whose technical mastery and sensitivity in the interpretation prompted a standing ovation from the audience. The evening was held during the world-famous Edinburgh International Festival, and many of the guests saw the evening as a highlight of the attractions.
Surgeons News, Oct 2010
“Viktor Bijelovic made his second visit to Farley by popular request. Here was a fantastic display of the utmost excitement and virtuosity. His Chopin waltzes had everybody wanting to get up and dance, the Heroic Polonaise thundered and the third Ballade received a dramatic interpretation.”
Richard Godfrey, Salisbury Journal, 24/05/2007
Virtuoso control at Recital
Audiences attending last week’s piano festival, held on three consecutive evenings, were rewarded with some superb programmes given by students from the Royal Academy of Music, in London. It was remarkable to hear the differences in style shown by soloists, each producing a completely difference and distinctive sound from the piano. … Viktor Bijelovic, from Belgrade, gave a virtuosos account of some of the giants of the piano repertoire, including Beethoven’s Apassionata and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, plus the fiendish La Campanella study. His warm personality and high spirits left the audience stunned.
Richard Godfrey, the Journal, 06/07/2006