Thursday, May 21, 2009

Valentina Lisitsa - Shostakovich, Beethoven, Schubert & Rachmaninoff - 05/20/09

Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, No 24
Beethoven: Sonata in B-flat Major, Op. 106, No 29, "Hammerklavier"
Schubert: Impromptu in B-flat Major, Op. post. 142, No 3 (D. 935)
Rachmaninoff: First Sonata in D Minor, Op. 28

The inconspicuous Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC is a wonderful source of interesting events, but regrettably it is usually not on my radar. Luckily, my friend Patty is more au courant than I am, and got us two tickets for a recital by Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa, whom I was eager to hear again after attending her rousing performance of Tchaikovsky's famous piano concerto with the National Philharmonic a few months ago. Of course, the prospect of experimenting first-hand her version of the Mount Everest that is the Hammerkavier was another strong incentive to attend, and we showed up ready to be dazzled.

It all started with a solid dose of Russian broodiness with a hint of lighter melodies courtesy of (who else?) Dimitri Shostakovich, which gave a diaphanous-looking Valentina Lisitsa her first opportunity to display her note-worthy skills.
But that was barely a warm-up for the daunting challenge that was coming up next. Composed of four expansive movements, the Hammerklavier is revered or notorious (depending on how you're looking at it) for its sheer power and relentless complexity. Unfazed, Lisitsa attacked it with unrestrained force, and there was no stopping her expertly and mercilessly hammering the museum's venerable Steinway. With technique and energy to spare, her fingers were flying all over the keyboard and delivered some quite impressive virtuoso playing. Even if some of the Romantic passages did not fully get the delicate treatment they deserved, the whole performance was accomplished with much brio and assurance, and left us breathless.
After such a dinosaur, the quick Schubert was light and lively, and went down like a fleeting summer breeze.
Then it was back to Russia with a sonata by Rachmaninoff during which she displayed the kind of intensity befitting the composer and his oeuvre, and we were again happily surrounded by big and fast sounds.

But that was not all. Apparently she had enough momentum to treat us to yet another piece by yet another Russian composer, and the evening truly came to an end with a meaty encore by Mussorgsky, during which she made darn sure that we'd leave the auditorium with two full hours of stirring music in our ears. And we did.

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