Dallas — The elegant experience that characterizes the Blue Candlelight Music Series presented another fascinating, and unusual, concert on Sunday evening. It featured the blind Georgian pianist Tamar Shalvashvili. She displayed amazing technical abilities and sure musical instincts.
Shalvashvili’s program was wide-ranging. She played two of Scriabin’s sonatas that couldn’t be more different — his impressionistic tinged version of romanticism in his Sonata No. 2, and his almost atonal Sonata No. 6. She played Chopin’s metaphysical Ballade No. 4 and then Beethoven’s ambiguous Sonata No. 31. There was something else on the program that will be discussed at the end of this review.
Once at the piano, Shalvashvili played almost continuously, merging one piece with the next without a break. It was as if she was in some kind of trance. She acknowledged applause when it occurred with a short bow but immediately sat back down and continued to play. In fact, when the intermission should have occurred, she went right on to the second half without a pause. After she completed the first work on the second half, a member of the management came out and quietly explained to her that she needed to stop to allow the intermission to take place.
Scriabin’s second sonata is one of the composer’s most popular pieces, probably because of its combination of lush romanticism with impressionistic overtones. Her performance of this two-movement work was excellent. Her interpretation offered great contrast between the lyrical first movement and the very fast musical explosion of the second movement.
Perhaps Scriabin had Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in mind when he started his sonata with a slow movement. She brought out the two lyrical themes and something different when they repeated. But she was most effective in the last movement. She played this presto movement at quite a clip, but with great clarity so we could marvel at her abilities.
An aside: To get an idea about the speed the composer demands, experts have clocked this movement at more than 15 notes per second.
Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 is a very different animal than the Scriabin except that he also uses an unusual pattern of movements. He starts out with a traditional sonata allegro first movement but follows that by a fast scherzo. The last movement opens with a slow recitative-like passage and a couple of fugues and a dramatic buildup to the satisfying ending.
She played the left-hand accompaniment figures as loudly as the right-hand melodic material. In fact, balance between her hands was a consistent problem throughout. The movement is full of humorous twists and turns including sudden dynamic changes, but we couldn’t tell if she was having fun or not. She played the fugues with sensitivity to the entrances and then built to an exciting finish.
Going back to Scriabin, she played his single-movement, dark and mysterious Sonata No. 6. It is so horror-filled that the composer himself never played it in public out of pure terror of what he called the nightmarish effect of music. None of this came through in Shalvashvili’s interpretation. It was appropriately serious, but little of the grotesquerie was present.
Chopin’s Ballade No. 6, Op. 52 was her best performance of the evening. As with everything else she played, this familiar piece sounded quite different. Her feel for nuance was excellent and she played with great clarity. Much of it was played too loudly and it ended abruptly, but these were only minor distractions.
There was one piece on the program, “Thoughts on the Present and Future,” by controversial composer Ilia II, who is the current Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia. This is the piece that was supposed to open the second half but was accidently played at the end of the first. She even played it a second time as an encore. It is a pleasant triviality written in an over-ripe romantic style that has a lot in common with lounge music. It was purposely beautiful with arpeggio patterns galore.
While the piece itself is harmless enough, the composer definitely is not. Ilia II is best known for his reactionary views, notably on LGBTQ issues. This is a conundrum that everyone has to settle for themselves. One irony is that he condemns Georgians working abroad as unpatriotic, so you wonder what he would think about the foreign venue where his piece was played and by whom.