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RECITAL REVIEW

Marin Pianist Joan Weinstein Greets Evgeni Mikhailov March 20

DRAMATIC 19TH CENTURY RUSSIAN WORKS HIGHLIGHT MIKHAILOV'S IMPOSING SRJC RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dark and rainy skies parted March 20 at Santa Rosa Junior College for Concerts Grand’s last recital of the Santa Rosa season. However, the sun and warmth quickly brought a new and musical storm into the area, Russian pianist Evgeni Mikhailov’s virtuosity presiding through the works of Chopin, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky.

Before 101 pianophiles in the small Newman Auditorium Mr. Mikhailov, having just ended a 25-concert American tour playing three concertos with a Polish orchestra, changed the printed program and began with five Chopin Preludes from Op. 28, surprisingly juxtaposing the opening C Major with Preludes 20 through 24. Here he set the stage for the entire concert, the playing outsized and with the C major an agitated and restlessness conception was established. The massive and majestic chords of the C Minor (No. 20) dissolved into a tranquil calm, and the G Minor Prelude was played with bravura in the left-hand octave solo. The D Minor was angry and defiant but from my seat I could not see if the artist changed fingers on the final fortissimo repeated notes in the bass. Each had substantial heft and asymmetrical timing.

Schumann’s lovely Scenes from Childhood (Kinderscenen), Op. 15, followed and was a reading that evoked memories of the Valentina Lisitsa performance from 2009 from the same stage. Here there were many deft touches, such as the long decresendo at the end of the Wichteige Begebenheit section and the elegant articulation in Fast zu Ernst. The well-known Träumerei and “The Poet Speaks” parts were not hurried, Schumann’s backward look at his youth in a small German town palpable. The Ukrainian Lisitsa would have been moved by the Kazan artist’s transversal of this fresh and memorable score.

Completing the first half was Mikhail Pletnev’s popular transcription of the Suite from Tchaikovsky’s Ballet “Nutcracker," laat played in Santa Rosa in 2009 by the youthful Armenian charmer Nareh Arghamanyan. Ms. Arghamanyan’s interpretation was diffuse and poetic and Mr. Mikhailov’s was red hot and impulsive. The insistent Tchaikovsky themes in the 17-minute composition were everywhere evident and the pianist opted for the difficult to accomplish combination of sonority and clarity. His damper pedal control here was impressive and the evocative bells of the second section were delicate and richly hued. The pianistic skips in the “Tarantelle” and the extended arpeggios in the “Intermezzo” spun out a noble theme, ending quietly with just a touch of right-hand flourish. There was sudden audience applause at the conclusion of the “Trepek”, a rare occurrence in a solo piano work, and striking contrapuntal figures in the Andante maestoso, the work’s longest section.

It was a scenic and convincing interpretation, and brought the hall to its feet in applause.

Mussorgsky’s monumental Pictures at an Exhibition comprised the entire second half, a ten-section recreation of paintings of one Viktor Hartman that the composer had seen in St. Petersburg in 1874. It’s a landmark of 19th century pianism, played last here thirty years ago by French pianist John Philippe Collard. Mr. Mikhailov began the opening soforzandos rather fast with an insistent ostinato left hand and some unique inner voices that never covered the main melody. His right hand repeated chords and expressive trills were fluently played throughout, and the Great Bogatyar Gate of Kiev had a brawny outline as well as resounding power and, yes, a lot of loudness. In difficult hand positions Mr. Mikhailov was able to maintain both the work’s required momentum and the return to the “Prominade” and a forceful second theme based on Russian chant. The pianist played the ending left-hand tremolos sonorously.

With ravenous applause a quiet encore was called for but Mr. Mikhailov was clearly not ready for bagatelles, and thundered a controlled performance of Rachmaninoff’s D Major Etude Tableaux, Op. 33, No. 9. It was a courageous choice, noble in it power and drama.

The reviewer is the producer of the Concerts Grand piano series.