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CHAMBER REVIEW
Oakmont Concert Series / Thursday, September 10, 2009
OLGA VINOKUR, CONCERT PIANIST

Pianist Olga Vinokur

VINOKUR SHINES IN ALL-RUSSIAN PROGRAM AT OAKMONT

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Planning and performing an All-Russian program is not a hard task as long as a solo pianist is the executant. The Slavic keyboard literature, even excluding the 19th Century, is vast, and Russian expatriate Olga Vinokur dipped into the works of five notable Russians in her Sept. 10 Oakmont Concert Series recital. Ms. Vinokur, a New York resident by way of early years in Russia and studies in Israel, gave a committed but largely low-key concert for 200 attendees in Berger Auditorium.

Beginning with Shostakovich’s first numbered composition, the 3 Fantastic Dances from 1922, Ms. Vinokur established a pattern that would continue throughout the recital – earnest attention to detail, carefully balanced voicing between the hands and a deft pianissimo touch. The Dances were forgettable curiosities and an odd selection, considering the greatness of the composer’s Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues, but there was fleeting charm for all, and in the second piece the pesky right-hand skips were effortlessly played.

Ten Scriabin Preludes came next, mostly from the Op. 11 set (of 24), but introduced by the haunting Prelude in C-Sharp Minor (for the left hand) from Op. 9. In all these the specter of Chopin looms large, and Ms. Vinokur was content to underplay, looking for subtle contrast and avoiding a big sound. Repose in these works is welcome, but more rhythmic flexibility was needed in the wistful A Minor and dreamy D Major preludes. Ms. Vinokur played the entire set well, but at times the phrasing was predictable, removed from the masterful Scriabin of Sofronitzky and Shura Cherkassky. Two Scriabin studies followed, the Op. 2, No. 1, the most memorable of the pair, and long a Horowitz favorite. Perhaps Scriabin’s most popular work, the D-Sharp Minor Etude from Op. 8 (in the original version) received a routine performance missing the demonic force that caused dancer Isadora Duncan to say that the Etude was the “agony of the Russian people.”

Medtner wrote three volumes of Forgotten Melodies, and the pianist played just one, a Canzona Matinata from Op. 39. The runs were half-pedaled, the nostalgia of the work carefully unfolding. Medtner never gets enough performances, and this one had a simple enchantment.

The first half ended with Prokofiev’s short Third Sonata, Op. 28, a work last played in Oakmont by pianist Gila Goldstein. Here Ms. Vinokur struggled a bit technically, her beguiling soft playing unable to offset the lack of the requisite left-hand fortes and the intrusion of several quick memory lapses. The bravura and rhythmic drive were present, but not quite in the amount needed to carry the piece.

The second part was all Rachmaninoff, comprising the Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 16, and a transcription of Kreisler’s violin bagatelle Liebeslied. The Op. 16 works are early, from 1896, and are brilliantly written salon works in a late-Romantic style. For me they lack the interest and compact textures of the more famous Op. 23 Preludes, and under Ms. Vinokur’s fingers made a mixed impression. In some, especially in the rhetorical B-Flat Minor and the barcarolle-like D-Flat Major, she caught the ruminating character of the works, too similar to Scriabin, and her legato scales shimmered. In pieces that had vast swirls of notes, as the composer often writes, the playing became muddy, and in the second piece she was briefly lost. It’s easy to do that with so much florid pianistic decoration. The rhythmic patterns of the final C Major “Moment” were brought out well, presaging the same model for the later B-Flat Prelude of Op. 23.

The Liebeslied, the first of a pair of reworkings from the composer’s colleague Fritz Kreisler, was played with charm and rhythmic vitality, if not the last ounce of virtuosity.

One encore was offered, a Scarlatti sonata, performed with fleet panache. It was worlds removed from the sonorous harmonies from the Russians composers.