Saturday, May 5, 2018

Victor Shlyakhtenko, 2018 Knox Competition Winner


REVIEW

First Fridays at First!, First Lutheran Church, Torrance
DAVID J BROWN

Victor Shlyakhtenko.
Emerging victorious from the Finals of the 46th Annual Edith Knox Performance Competition, held on April 8 under the auspices of the Peninsula Symphony, pianist Victor Shlyakhtenko gave his first concert as winner at the May “First Fridays at First!” recital. The audience enjoyed a formidable display of pianism, played entirely from memory by the 16-year-old virtuoso, though I did regret the late substitution, at his teacher’s instigation, of the two complete works originally billed (Chopin’s Third Piano Sonata and Polonaise in A-flat major Op.53) by a program mostly of extracts. 

I suppose you could argue that any one of the “48” Preludes and Fugues is also an excerpt from a larger whole, but no-one would suggest that Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier is a single musical entity in the way that Beethoven’s “Appassionata” and Chopin’s Third Piano Sonata are. So the Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV 865, the 20th in Book One of Bach’s mighty double survey of all the major and minor keys, made a fine and unexceptionable recital opener.

Mr. Shlyakhtenko took the brief Prelude, all over in less than a minute, at quite a fast tempo, and thus very clearly marked it off from his spacious account of the following Fugue, where the voice-leading of the four successive fugal entries, and delineation of the unfolding contrapuntal lines, were handled with impeccable clarity. 

Chopin in 1849.
He followed this with the first movements each of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor Op.57 “Appassionata” and Chopin’s Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor Op.58. Of the two, the former seemed to me the more successful, Mr. Shlyakhtenko hurling out Beethoven’s sudden fistfuls of fortissimo chords in the exposition with all the energy and passion the composer demands, while still observing the sudden contrasts of dynamic down to pianissimo with which the score abounds.

The whole movement was grippingly done, and it seemed simply wrong for this performance to stop at its conclusion (not quite down to the ppp specified, and elsewhere with Beethoven’s occasional dolce markings a little under-observed) and not proceed to the Andante con moto and finale. 

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the Chopin, but – firstly – it’s surely a mistake to omit the repeat of the long exposition, particularly as he takes the trouble to write in two first-time measures. Secondly, there was throughout, to my ears, a want of nuance. Unlike the Beethoven, in this movement Chopin’s dynamics hardly ever move above forte or below piano, and with little tempo change from the opening Allegro maestoso. To observe and express the ebb and flow between these quite narrow parameters, and avoid the rather dogged middle-ground mezzo-forte that pervaded much of the performance, requires a subtlety of gradation that I am sure will come to this pianist with greater maturity. 

Samuel Barber in 1944.
Finally, came an unannounced encore, a steel-fingered virtuosic account of – what? Speculation raged afterward in the queue for the complimentary coffee and cookies that Classical Crossroads Inc. generously lays on for the First Friday concerts... Just kidding, though my guess of Shostakovich was echoed by another attendee, while someone else opined Bartók. Nope, all wrong. Later inquiry revealed that it had been the finale of the Samuel Barber Piano Sonata in E-flat minor Op.26, the acerbic fugal energy of which would come as quite a shock to anyone whose knowledge of the composer was confined to the Adagio for Strings and the Violin Concerto.

As with the Beethoven, I would love to hear Mr. Shlyakhtenko play the whole Barber Sonata. However, he will be appearing as soloist in Liszt's Piano Concerto No.1 in I-flat major with the Peninsula Symphony under Maestro Gary Berkson on Sunday, June 17 at Redondo Union High School, 222 North Pacific Coast Highway, Redondo Beach. 

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“First Fridays at First!”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, May 4, 2018.
Photos: Victor Shlyakhtenko: Courtesy Lang Lang International Music Foundation; Chopin: Louis-Auguste Bisson, courtesy Wikimedia Commons; Samuel Barber: Carl Van Vechten/Library of Congress.

1 comment:

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