Monday, June 13, 2011

Music review: Pianist Uryvayeva makes good showing in complete Chopin Etudes

Sofiya Uryvayeva, in a photo from her website.

By Greg Stepanich

Frederic Chopin created art amid exercise when he wrote his two collections of Etudes‭ (‬Opp.‭ ‬10‭ ‬and‭ ‬25,‭ ‬and not counting the three he wrote in‭ ‬1839‭ ‬for Fetis‭)‬,‭ ‬and with the exception of Liszt‭’‬s‭ ‬Transcendental Etudes,‭ ‬they far outdistance every other such pedagogical work of‭ ‬their time.

Perhaps the monumentality of the challenge‭ ‬– like doing the complete‭ ‬48‭ ‬of Bach‭’‬s‭ ‬Well-Tempered Clavier‭ ‬– makes pianists shrink from playing them one after another,‭ ‬or perhaps some of them just aren‭’‬t congenial‭ (‬Vladimir Horowitz,‭ ‬for instance,‭ ‬said‭ ‬he couldn‭’‬t do three of them,‭ ‬including the two in C‭)‬.‭ ‬Whatever the reason,‭ ‬the young‭ ‬Russian-German pianist Sofiya Uryvayeva deserves credit for playing all of them back to back,‭ ‬as she did Saturday night at the Boca Steinway Gallery.

Uryvayeva,‭ ‬now resident in Miami,‭ ‬has appeared four other times in the gallery‭’‬s Piano Lovers series,‭ ‬including a recital‭ ‬in March.‭ ‬She has a YouTube channel with a wide variety of performances including music by Messiaen,‭ ‬Brahms and‭ ‬contemporary Polish composer Gerard Drozd as well as Chopin,‭ ‬and her concert this past weekend drew a full house.

She is an impressive player,‭ ‬one with a strong technique,‭ ‬a very pronounced singing tone,‭ ‬and the ability to persuasively inhabit different emotional moods.‭ ‬Most of the etudes came off successfully,‭ ‬but three or four of them fell short of the standard of the rest,‭ ‬and will need some more work before they can be brought out in public again.

Uryvayeva played Op.‭ ‬10,‭ ‬then Op.‭ ‬25,‭ ‬in order,‭ ‬and without an intermission.‭ ‬She began quite well,‭ ‬with a sparkling performance of the first etude‭ (‬in C,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬10,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬1‭)‬,‭ ‬which wasn‭’‬t simply a parade of well-drilled arpeggios‭; ‬at one cadence she played the notes with a drier,‭ ‬wittier color that added an engagingly light touch.‭ ‬But in the following A minor Etude,‭ ‬she seemed to lose her fingering footing,‭ ‬and while the well-known E major Etude that came afterward was pretty and effective,‭ ‬the following two still showed signs of trouble.‭ ‬Things almost broke down in‭ ‬the C-sharp minor Etude‭ (‬No.‭ ‬4‭)‬,‭ ‬and the familiar‭ ‬Black Key Etude‭ (‬in G-flat‭) ‬was cautious and earthbound,‭ ‬in music that needs to glitter and float.

But those were her most difficult moments,‭ ‬and the concert improved steadily after that.‭ ‬No.‭ ‬8‭ ‬in F bubbled along serenely,‭ ‬as did No.‭ ‬10‭ ‬in A-flat,‭ ‬though it could have used some different colors at the key changes.‭ ‬Her‭ ‬Revolutionary Etude‭ (‬in C minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬10,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬12‭) ‬was suitably fiery and tempestuous,‭ ‬and drew warm applause from the audience.‭

The Op.‭ ‬25‭ ‬set opened with a lovely reading of the A-flat Etude,‭ ‬and she brought a fine spirit of playfulness to No.‭ ‬3‭ ‬in F.‭ ‬The A minor Etude‭ (‬Op.‭ ‬25,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬4‭)‬,‭ ‬needed some more emphasis on the offbeat melodic line,‭ ‬to bring out the tension between it and the steady march in the left hand.‭ ‬The famous waltz in the middle of the E minor Etude‭ (‬No.‭ ‬5‭) ‬was suave and inviting,‭ ‬and her double thirds in the No.‭ ‬6‭ (‬in G-sharp minor‭) ‬were admirably even,‭ ‬and quiet enough to stay out of the way of the melody below.

In the popular C-sharp minor Etude‭ (‬No.‭ ‬7‭)‬,‭ ‬Uryvayeva chose a slow tempo that emphasized her ability to play with a beautiful tone,‭ ‬but the passionate runs in the left hand,‭ ‬particularly the big E-flat scale in the middle,‭ ‬were not as clean and accurate as they needed to‭ ‬be.‭ ‬No.‭ ‬9‭ (‬In G-flat‭) ‬again showed this pianist‭’‬s impish side to charming effect,‭ ‬and while her octaves and forcefulness in the No.‭ ‬10‭ (‬in B minor‭) ‬were impressive,‭ ‬she could have made more of the break between the opening and the tender middle section.

She opened the‭ ‬Winter Wind Etude‭ (‬No.‭ ‬11‭ ‬in A minor‭) ‬very deliberately,‭ ‬and she used it to set up both the A minor and the C minor Etude that followed it,‭ ‬playing the two with no pause between them.‭ ‬Both of these etudes had a high degree of polish,‭ ‬and her sweeping arpeggios in the C minor Etude had great sweep and bravura.‭

As an encore,‭ ‬Uryvayeva played the Mikhail Pletnev arrangement of the culminating‭ ‬pas de deux from Act II of‭ ‬Tchaikovsky‭’‬s‭ ‬The Nutcracker.‭ ‬This has the same sort of endless arpeggiation that some of the etudes do,‭ ‬which made it a fitting extra.‭ ‬Here,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬Uryvayeva‭’‬s ability to play singing melody‭ ‬was uppermost.

Sofiya Uryvayeva is a young‭ (‬28‭)‬,‭ ‬ambitious pianist,‭ ‬and she‭’‬s well worth hearing.‭ ‬She has substantial gifts,‭ ‬wide-ranging musical interests,‭ ‬and a work ethic that has her frequently concertizing in numerous halls hereabouts.‭ ‬It seems to me that in order to make the most of her talents,‭ ‬she needs now to woodshed it a little more on the trickier points of technique,‭ ‬and perhaps add‭ ‬some‭ ‬more‭ ‬repertoire that stresses the independence of the hands.

I‭’‬m thinking Bach,‭ ‬and while she does include some of his pieces on her website‭’‬s repertoire list,‭ ‬I for one‭ ‬would be happy to hear her again in a concert of preludes and fugues from the‭ ‬Well-Tempered Clavier,‭ ‬or‭ ‬one or more of the‭ ‬suites,‭ ‬or perhaps a couple of the partitas.‭ ‬Bach,‭ ‬after all,‭ ‬was Chopin‭’‬s greatest influence aside from Mozart and Italian opera,‭ ‬and playing the music of the master from Eisenach is a wonderful way to deepen appreciation,‭ ‬and mastery,‭ ‬of Chopin‭’‬s aesthetic.

Next up in the Piano Lovers series is Margarita Shevchenko,‭ ‬Russian-born and trained in Moscow and Cleveland,‭ ‬and a member of the SoBe Institute of the Arts faculty in Miami Beach.‭ ‬Shevchenko will play three works by Chopin‭ ‬– the Barcarolle,‭ ‬the Polonaise in A-flat‭ (‬Op.‭ ‬53‭)‬,‭ ‬and the Polonaise-Fantaisie‭ ‬– as well as the complete Op.‭ ‬116‭ ‬Fantaisies of Johannes Brahms.‭ ‬The concert this coming Saturday‭ ‬at the Boca Steinway Gallery begins at‭ ‬7‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets are‭ ‬$20‭ ‬in advance,‭ ‬and‭ ‬$25‭ ‬at the door.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬929-6633‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬

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