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RECITAL REVIEW
Redwood Arts Council / Sunday, November 13, 2022
Ilya Yakushev, piano.

Pianist Ilya Yakushev

ASSERTIVE PIANISM IN YAKUSHEV'S OCCIDENTAL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 13, 2022

Russian based pianist Ilya Yakushev has had many North Coast engagements, playing recently in Mill Valley and Healdsburg, and Nov. 13 in the Redwood Arts Council’s Occidental 43rd season a recital originally postponed due to COVID restrictions.

As is currently the custom and part of Mr. Yakushev’s approach to an audience, the pianist spoke at length from the stage concerning the contrasting output of the composers of the first half, and sundry subjects having little connection with the music at hand.

Haydn’s popular D Major Sonata (Hob. XVl/37) came first and received stylish interpretation heavy with damper pedal. This delightful work is from the composer’s earlier period, more light and fleet than the Sonata in the same key from the mid 1790s. Mr. Yakushev’s articulation in the effervescent first movement was convincing but at the chosen tempo sporadically blurred the music. No matter, as the charm rolled on, only to turn to the initial grave and menacing chords of the Largo. Here the counterpoint was effective and moved without pause into a rondo Presto that was joyous. In just under 12 minutes, it was splendid playing that received loud applause from the 65 attendees.

Originally programming Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, the pianist plunged into the F Minor Appassionata Sonata, Op. 57, and made the most of the work’s powerful drama. In several spots Mr. Yakushev held over single chords without using the sostenuto pedal, highlighting the passionate music written in 1805. But he also displayed a dry detaché touch in ascending passages. The variation movement was played without sentimentality, leading to the famous 13 powerful chords that herald the intensity of the finale.

In this Allegro the playing was loud and propulsive with interesting left hand voicing, and at the rapid speed he adopted towards the end the playing almost went off the rails. But not quite, and Mr. Yakushev finished with a blaze of individuality and virtuosity.
After the Appassionata’s commotion ceased the pianist spoke again to the audience, unique in my concert going experience, to wish them a profitable intermission and the opportunity to visit the hall’s cozy art gallery.

Scriabin’s C-Sharp Minor Prelude began the second half, in a sensitive performance that was slower than usually encountered and a little over-the-top and with more words from the stage. Rachmaninoff’s G Minor Prelude from Op. 23 received a big hall sound, and careful attention to the middle section’s noble theme. It was pretty loud in the Denis Matsuev Russian style, perhaps too loud from the small concert space.

A languorous performance of Chopin’s C-Sharp Minor Nocturne came next, the composer’s 20th Nocturne and published posthumously. It was romantic playing through and through, highlighted by the subtle return to the major key in the final notes. Elegant and persuasive.

Earl Wild’s transcription of Gershwin’s super popular Rhapsody in Blue concluded the program, a piece Mr. Yakushev related that he loves to play. It was again sonorous playing with many showy pianistic effects.
Perhaps some in the audience have tired of the Rhapsody, as applause was not tepid but also not raucous.

The best playing in the two encores was Bach’s artful transcription of a section of Benedetto Marcello’s C Minor oboe composition. Using the shift pedal Mr. Yakushev shaped a lovely cantabile sound and his deft phrasing made it a highlight of the recital.

The pianist's CD were sold in the lobby following the concert, with proceeds going to Mr. Yakushev's Ukrainian associates that have fled the country and living in exile.

The new Redwood Arts Council executive Roger Farley was announced to the audience, succeeding the late Sonia Tubridy, and described in pre-concert and intermission remarks how the Council will be expanding into local area musical education in schools and new multi-cultural productions.