Yulianna Avdeeva in Recital. SSO.
City Recital Hall. May 14

Spirit of Delight: Vondracek plays Prokofiev.
Opera House May 16.


Two contrasting pianistic talents graced Sydney's musical stages last week. Yulianna Avdeeva's Chopin and Liszt recital for the SSO's International Pianists in Recital series on Monday revealed an artist with impressive keyboard command and a free approach to rhythm and tempo in works that focused inwards to create dreamy and contemplative states of mind.

Masterful: Pianist Yulianna Avdeeva has a free approach to rhythm and tempo.

Photo: Christine Schneider

The first half traced a trajectory from the ruminative melancholy of Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor (Opus posthumous) to the grandstanding heroics of his Polonaise in A Flat, Opus 53. Some of the most original playing came in Chopin's Four Mazurkas, Opus 7, where Avdeeva's elasticity of rhythm elongated off-beats and rushed impetuously to create a highly individual sense of gesture and poise.

In the second half she began with works that explored Liszt's artistically fruitful (if personally complex) relationship with Richard Wagner centred around Venice (where Wagner died) in a series of austere late Liszt works, La lugubre gondola, Unstern, and R.W. Venezia.

These shadowy inspirations moved without a break to the groping shapes of the opening of Liszt's masterwork, the Sonata in B minor. The context created for the Sonata emphasised rhapsodic fantasy – this was sometimes at the expense of forward movement, undermining the work's structure.


Notwithstanding these reservations, Avdeeva is a pianist of mastery and distinctiveness.

After a quaint and best-forgotten Bach orchestral arrangement by Elgar to begin the SSO concert, pianist Lukas Vondracek performed Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Opus 26 with spellbinding intensity, the outer movements bristling with spiky articulation and demonic energy.

This sardonic assertiveness was interleaved with lyricism in the slow movement and eerie mystery in the slower interludes of the finale. It was a rare and hugely engaging display of pianistic imagination and vitality.

After the interval, conductor John Wilson started Elgar's Symphony No. 2 in E Flat major, Opus 63 (1911) with an approach to tempo that initially seemed stiff and slightly lacking in indulgence. In the second movement, the performance broadened to expansive expressive moments, and the SSO closed the movement with gossamer delicacy.

After playful exchanges between woodwind and strings in the third movement, the finale moved from hints of the majestic quality that endeared (and still endears) listeners to the composer's First Symphony, to a twilight close of autumnal warmth that in retrospect adumbrated the sunset of Edwardian sensibility and certainty.

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