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Not always convincing, but impressive

Koerner Hall
12/09/2012 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: Ich ruf zu dir, BWV 639 (arr. Busoni)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 "Appassionata", Op. 57
Franz Schubert: Winterreise, D. 911: "Gute Nacht" – Des Mädchens Klage, D. 389 – Erlkönig, D. 328 – Schwanengesang, D. 957: "Der Doppelgänger" – Ave Maria, D. 839 (arr. Liszt)
F. Chopin: Nocturnes Op. 55, No. 1, Op. 15, No. 1, Op. 27, No. 1, Op. 15, No. 2, Op. 48, No. 1, Op. 27, No. 2, Op. Posth. in C-sharp Minor, & Op. 9, No. 2
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 7, Op. 83

Valentina Lisitsa (Piano)

V. Lisitsa (Courtesy of the Royal Conservatory)

This epic recital by Valentina Lisitsa (with a brief intermission, it lasted some two and three-quarters of an hour) had a full measure of delights along with wayward stretches.

She opened with a deeply introspective performance of Busoni’s arrangement of J. S. Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, one of Ten Chorale Preludes the Italian composer published a hundred years ago. At its quiet finish, she held her large, eloquent hands over the keyboard - thus quelling applause - before beginning Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata in an extremely subdued manner before a kaboom! moment when the work’s impetuous nature kicked in. What followed was a performance of extreme light and shade, perhaps to the detriment of subtler shadings, but overall a persuasive, riveting performance.

The following Liszt arrangements of Schubert lieder were also of widely varying moods, vividly expressed, with Erlkönig (no surprise) especially harrowing. The concluding Ave Maria resolved tension - and the audience respected her long silence at the end.

Following the break, Ms Lisitsa embarked on the eight Chopin nocturnes listed above. In these she lovingly - and at great, great length - caressed every note of the slow sections that begin and end each piece. This was entrancing at first but then became mannered. The outburst of grandeur in the middle of the fifth nocturne was a welcome respite. At the end of this lengthy set of ruminations she again held off applause before launching into the wildly contrasting Prokofiev Sonata No. 7. The first movement - a hard thing to pull together - was disjointed; the second appropriately melancholic, then the third a runaway train with perhaps too much pedal. Still it made for a bravura finish.

The first encore took us back to a ruminative mood with Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s “Der Müller und der Bach”. This was followed - great fun! - by Liszt’s "La Campanella".

Ms Lisitsa has made canny use of new media in furthering her career, a factor that gained her a lot of coverage in old media (i.e. daily newspapers) in the days leading up to this recital. She has been working hard to make her mark in the crowded piano field. I can foresee her becoming somewhat of a controversial cult figure. I can’t say I am a convert to her cult, but would happily hear her again soon.

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Michael Johnson



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