CHOPIN, MOZART, LISZT & Verdi – Yulianna Avdeeva, p. – Mirare

A sterling recital by Romantic pianist Yulianna Avdeeena makes strong points.

Yulianna Avdeeva = CHOPIN: Fantasie in f minor, Op. 49; MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 6 in D Major, K. 284; LISZT: Apres une lecture du Dante – Fantasia quasi sonata; Aida de Giuseppe Verdi: Danza sacra e duettino finale – Yulianna Avdeeva, p. – Mirare MIR 301, 67:00 (2/19/16) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

This recital by Russian pianist Yulianna Avdeeva (b. 1985) captures the 2010 First Prize Winner of the 16th International Frederyk Chopin Piano Competition in a studio recording from 28-30 September 2015. Her natural sympathy for Chopin exerts itself in her agile rendition of the Fantasie (1841), a work Theodor Adorno once characterized as “a tragically decorative song of triumph.” Chopin took as his impetus a nationalist song Litwinka, a kind of collective hymn of Polish exiles. Avdeeva manages its sectionalized structure with a lyric sense of Chopin’s alternation of poignant, militaristic drama and its innate sense of bel canto. The two dominant affects, zal and tesknota – variants of sadness, nostalgia, and hopeful yearning – form a passionate mix striking to the mind and ear, even by Chopin’s high standards. The constant flow of arpeggios retains an air of religious devotion. The storms often rage, but in a firmly-controlled palette given its warranted hues by engineer Andreas Neubronner.

Mozart’s 1784 Sonata No. 6 in D has the nickname “Durnitz,” for a music lover and bassoon player from Munich for whom Mozart wrote three concertos.  The form of the music, no less reliant on bel canto than that of Chopin, opens with a vibrant Allegro whose “symphonic” ambitions likely reflect Mozart’s happy relationship with the Stein instrument he had discovered in 1777.  Avdeena’s strong suit lies in her clarity of line and the supple strength of her ornaments, her bass octaves – in the left hand as well – and tremolos. The first movement enjoys theatrical gestures, a kind of opera overture in itself. The attention to Mozart’s dynamic marking comes to the fore in the expressive Rondeau en polonaise, Mozart’s concession to the galant style of the French.  Avdeena gives us the happy variety in each appearance of the rondo theme as it shifts its colors and rhythmic values. The last movement, Tema con variazione, presents a theme and twelve variations, Mozart’s first such usage in a keyboard sonata. Mozart treats the variations as a series of etudes, studies in technical problems like double notes, tremolos, contrary motion, crossed hands, and pearly octaves. A sense of improvisation infuses Avdeena’s performance, a genial but ardent reading – Edwin Fischer’s idea of “champagne Mozart” – of one of Mozart’s more expansive experiments in sonata form.

Improvisation informs the 1837 (rev. 1849) Liszt’s Dante Sonata, a significant opus in the Liszt style of “transformation of theme.” A prolonged meditation, the piece transcends the merely virtuosic aspects of the keyboard to make a claim for literary and philosophical significance. The chains of tritones likely invoke the hellfires of Inferno, while the middle section presents the romantic plight of Francesca da Rimini and her lover Paolo, eternally whipped by the winds of forbidden passion. The conflicting tonalities of d minor and F-sharp Major convey the conceit – from Omar Khayyam as well as from Dante –  that one’s own soul contains Hell and Heaven. Avdeena imparts a demonic glitter on the cascades of tormented octaves that eventually mount to an exalted chorale. Often, the notion of idealized love suffuses the keyboard color palette, sensual, exalted, passionate, and intellectually alert, at once. The sensitivity to tone color – especially in the notes A-flat and its enharmonic G-sharp – figure in the vital resonance Avdeena’s performance. At times, the texture suggests – beyond the potent ostinati in the bass line – that the whole progression is somehow sung on a massive guitar or Aeolian harp, with all homage to Coleridge.

Liszt made a transcription of aspects of Verdi’s opera Aida in 1878, fusing “Possente Ftha” from Act I, Scene 2 and “O terra addio” from Act IV, Scene 2. Liszt combines the sacred ritual dance with final duet, in which the two lovers suffer burial alive.  The love-death played out at first casts an austere glow upon the events, an invocation to a god juxtaposed against a cruel fate. Avdeena approaches the opus with a somber simplicity of style, virtually devoid of bravura ostentation. The tearful farewell to the material world seems a natural extension of the holy aura of Radames and Aida’s earthly love, translated into lyrical and affecting pianism.

—Gary Lemco

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