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RECITAL REVIEW

Nikolay Khozyainov Jan. 13 in Mill Valley (A. Wasserman photo)

KHOZYAINOV'S BRILLIANT PIANISM IN MILL VALLEY RECITAL

by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, January 13, 2019

In its third concert of the season the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society Jan. 13 presented Russian virtuoso Nikolay Khozyainov. His intelligent and sensitive interpretations, masterful pedal work, and virtuoso technique left the near-capacity audience in Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church astounded and gratified.

His program began tenderly with the opening bars of Chopin’s F Major Ballade No. 2, Op. 38, contrasting gentle passages with thunderous outbursts to evoke manifold emotions. Then he interpreted Chopin’s poetic B Major Nocturne Op. 62, No. 1 as a meditative rumination flooded with nostalgia, and performed with lovely touches of rubato.

Mr. Khozyainov then launched into Stravinsky’s Three Movements from the 1921 ballet “Petrushka”: Russian Dance, In Petrushka’s Cell, and The Shrovetide Fair. The original orchestral version of Petruhska was composed in 1911 for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe, but in 1914 a transcription for piano, four hands, was arranged by Stravinsky and others, and eight years later the composer created a three-movement solo version. In a stunning performance the artist achieved the sound and coloration of a full orchestra. His ability to bring clarity to every voice while making a blend of all the voices was breathtaking.

Stravinsky’s Danse Sacrale from the ballet The Rite of Spring followed, and the impact was sharply contrasted from the Petrushka performance. While well performed, the section (a maiden’s sacrificial dance to the death) features clashing, disturbing dissonances that sounded muddied and chaotic, as surely they do in the orchestral version. It is meant to be played in context of the complete ballet, and only then do its dissonances make full sense.

After intermission Mr. Khozyainov opened the second half with a verbal introduction to Sonatina Facile by the German composer Jörg Widmann (b. 1973). The pianist said the Sonatina “brings the past and present together to create the future,” and so it was with this spritely and surprising composition in three movements (allegro, andante, rondo). Each movement begins with a transposition of opening bars from Mozart’s C Major Sonata, K. 545. Rich in unexpected sonorities and pulsating rhythms, the Sonatina seems at first like a mash-up, as it’s part homage, part exploration of the new. The composer slides in tastes of a Bach fugue, a Chopin figuration, and tidbits from other composers as he explores new tonalities and compelling rhythms.

Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata, No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57, concluded the recital. Mr. Khozyainov’s beautiful performance was rich in feeling, balance, tempo and clear inner voices. As throughout, his pedaling achieved unusual clarity and balance of voices. One of the pianist’s great strengths is pulse – the quality of accentuating rhythms. His playing in the first and third movements was thrilling. In the early measures of the andante con moto variations with its chordal exchanges between hands, he brought out the left hand motive, explaining in a remark after the concert that the cello voice is meant to be emphasized. This served to make those opening passages darker emotionally while not overshadowing the lovely soprano lines.

In the end the audience didn’t want to let Mr. Khozyainov go, and the standing ovation went on so long that after three bows he returned to the piano and played Liszt’s Grand Galop Chromatique, a dazzling tour-de-force. Still, the ovation continued, and he returned to play Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 with elegant sensitivity. Even that was not enough. The final encore was Busoni’s Sonatina No. 6, Fantasy on Themes from Bizet’s Opera “Carmen,” with changes made by the pianist.

Many members of the audience surrounded Mr. Khozyainov with congratulations and good wishes after the last encore before departing into the rainy night.