Fort Worth — The theme of this year’s PianoTexas Festival at Texas Christian University is “A Pilgrimage to Russian Music.” Six Distinguished Artists Recitals are the highlight of the festival, and this year include mostly Russian musicians playing mostly Russian music. The soloists are top flight this year, including Vladimir Feltsman and local favorite Olga Kern.
Saturday’s recital, by Tchaikovsky and Leeds Competition top prize winner Vladimir Ovchinnikov, was a two-hour love letter to Rachmaninoff. The program began with two of Rachmaninoff’s “Fantasy Pieces,” Op. 3—the Melody in E Major and the Polichinelle in F-Sharp Minor. The first half continued with five of Rachmaninoff’s Preludes, Op. 23, and his Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42. The second half was entirely transcriptions of songs, two by Rachmaninoff himself and the remaining five by pianist Earl Wild.
“Russian style” can mean a great many things, depending upon whom you ask, but one constant seems to be prioritizing emotion, especially melancholy, over technique or flair. Ovchinnikov indeed embodied emotionality, although his technique was certainly nothing to sneeze at. He is not a flamboyant player, but lack of flash was more than made up for by cleanness and precision, at least most of the time. His playing, consistently gentlemanly, never bombastic, was ideally suited to his choice of repertoire.
In general, Ovchinnikov’s lyrical playing was more appealing than his more virtuosic playing. One quirk: he seemed to allow less than a breath between pieces, for instance when performing the Op. 23 Preludes. This created a sometimes too-abrupt shift in mood.
The highlight of the evening was the Corelli Variations. They are based on “La Folia,” a theme not in fact written by Corelli, though Rachmaninoff probably didn’t know that. Corelli used the theme, which dates from at least the 16th century, for his own set of variations in his violin sonata Op. 5 No. 12. (Franz Liszt used the same theme for his Rhapsodie espagnole.) The emotional resonance and variety of colors made each of the 20 variations marvelously distinct.
The post-intermission selection of song transcriptions, while lovely, did not have as much contrast in character as a listener might have wished. Still, Ovchinnikov’s playing was beautifully executed, with subtlety and good taste.
An enthusiastic ovation from the packed house resulted in two encores, both as well-received as the rest of the program.
Next up at Piano Texas is pianist Dmitri Alexeev on Saturday June 23 at 7:30 in PepsiCo Recital Hall on the campus of TCU; and the Young Artists Concerto Concert at 7:30 p.m. June 24. Full information can be found at www.pianotexas.org.
PianoTexas Festival Concert Schedule
Distinguished Artist Recital Series
- 7:30pm June 23: Dmitri Alexeev
- 7:30pm June 30: Olga Kern
Concerto Concert Series
- 7:30pm June 24: Young Artists Concerto Concert
- 7:30pm June 26: Teachers & Amateurs Concerto Concert
- 7:30pm July 1: Young Arts Concerto Concert