Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Russian Element

Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Balakirev, and Borodin: are unique, similar to the artists that performed them on the night of Thursday, October 27, 2005. At the finale of a yearlong festival by Mannes college, The Late Romantic’s Festival: program thirteen, presented itself at the consulate general of the Russian Federation in New York. This program began at 6:30PM with an introduction by Pavlina Dokovska, the artistic director of Mannes College. Dokovska explained the one similarity behind these great composers: the Russian element; a quality identified by passion, expression, energy, and lightness. Her exit was accompanied by applause as the audience became attentive. I anticipated the character that Pavlina had described and looked to the stage to discover who would be performing it first that night.
Playing Rachmaninoff, from preludes: opus 23, was Ilya Yakushev. Yakushev’s musical career at Mannes began under the study of Arkady Aronov while receiving his bachelor of music degree in 2003. In 2005, he received his masters of music degree as a student of world renown, Vladimir Feltsman, whom he studies with currently. He continues to work under a scholarship while striving for his professional studies diploma. Yakushev began his program with Rachmaninoff’s G Minor prelude. I felt that his first prelude was the least “in character” After seeing him perform a number of times; I have come to expect his performances to be creative and original in interpretation. However, the G minor prelude took on a mood that, I felt, did not fit the piece. The beginning measures were significantly expeditious and the dynamics were extreme to the point of choppiness. This quality took away any sense of fluidity and communication between phrases. There was a lack of growth. On a positive note, the middle voicing was strong and clear. In addition, I felt that the balance between the voices was very distinct. Following the G minor prelude, Yakushev continued with Rachmaninoff’s D Major Prelude. This prelude took a comfortable pace and had much of the same successful qualities as as the G minor prelude. The connections between the middle voices kept together nicely. I felt that Ilya demonstrated an excellent use of rise and fall dynamics. The soprano voice sang clearly, yet it had tendencies to be overly harsh. On the other hand, I was disappointed to hear the sound drop out at the end of the piece. Yakushev concluded his program with the B flat major prelude. This performance, in particular, stood out for its excellent contrast between sharp, accurate rhythm and expressive rabato. It possessed a vivid sense of color but I would have preferred a little bit more contrast in phrasing. The end of the piece was rushed however the acceleration of speed added to the dramatic performance. In general, Ilya’s performance on Thursday night was technically accurate, sensitive, and exciting. His ability to capture the composer was evident. Most importantly, Ilya Yakushev is alluring to watch and captures a provocative style that is all his own.
Soprano Maria Evdokimova, began the next portion of the presentation with works by Tchaikovsky. Her voice had a very pure tone that carried throughout all three songs. She sang (English translation) “Can it be day?” in its original Russian form. Immediately I noticed her holding back. Occasionally, she scurried off-pitch. However, she did demonstrate an excellent sense of phrasing and dynamic. Her consonants were clear and accurate. “Cradle song”, Maria’s next piece, also represented an excellent use of dynamics. I found myself thoroughly impressed with her control, shown specifically through her use of decrescendo. However, breaths often broke her phrases. I noticed the same excellent use of dynamics as I had noticed in her second piece, throughout her third, “At the Ball”. Overall, aside from her lacking transitions and fluidity, Maria is a significantly passionate and sensitive vocalist.
Next, already living a successful and professional career with multiple concerts throughout the United States and Europe is 18-year-old Natasha Paremski. She is working on a bachelor of music degree under Pavlina Dokovska at Mannes College. Her first piece was one that was absent from the program: Rachmaninoff’s Elegy. Her Introduction was well balanced, incorporated good balance, and wonderful phrasing and dynamics. The theme change was slightly awkward and abrupt but there was excellent contrast into pianissimo section. I was impressed with her technical ability, especially in scale passages. However, Elogy was not as smooth as it should have been. I think this piece was a bit above her ability. The fact that transitions suffered, and specific sections were awkward and seemed tedious, made for merely an above average performance. I give her credit for an attempt at a very difficult work. The anticipated Balakirev followed. She played Islamey: An Oriental Fantasy. I was not thrilled with this piece. The pace was slow and dragging. The phrasing needed more contrast. The scale passages were nice and light but it lacked the fluidity and movement that was expected of a piece of this nature.
The last performance of the night was that of the Borodin String Quartet, performed by violinist Yifan Yang, violinist Joanna Becker, violist Chin-yuan Cehn, and Troy Chang. Yifan Yang received his master of music degree from Manhattan school of music in 2005, where he studied with Lucie Robert and currently is a master of music degree candidate and scholarship recipient at Mannes College. Joanna Becker has a bachelor’s degree of the arts and a bachelor’s degree of music, both from Yale University. She also studies at Mannes, currently working on her master of music degree, with teachings by Ann Setzer. Ching-Yuan Cehn earned her bachelors degree from the Taiwan National University, and her Master of music degree from Mannes College in 2005. Presently, she studies under Hsin-Yun Huang as a Professional Study Diploma candidate and scholarship recipient. Troy Chang received his master degree at Manhattan school of music and currently studies with Fred Sherry at Mannes College. In the Borodin String Quartet performed by these four, Yifan Yang played the first violin and Joanna Becker played the second violin. The start of the first movement was accurately together. They demonstrated good balance from the start that remained clean. There were points were the violins were not in tune with each other. As the piece unraveled, I felt that they should have grown in sound more together than they had been. The Cellist kept a wonderful, smooth, tonal foundation. It served as an excellent backbone for the whole of the movement. The second violin showed beautiful soprano voicing with excellent phrasing, including accurate rests. The second movement of the quartet was increasingly together and balanced. The harmonic blend was clear and focused. Finally, in the third movement I saw the violist come out. Her phrasing was delicate and clear and her rhythm was very articulate. Overall, this group’s best quality was cuing. They had excellent instincts. I believe that the first violinist showed the best sense of artistry and the cellist showed the best sense of phrasing in comparison to each other. This was an excellent finale choice to a well-directed and well-performed concert. Above all, each of these performances delivered a unique energy and style as well as an underlying element; one of passion, anticipation, expression, and energy.

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