Fort Worth — Once in a while, albeit quite rarely, a reviewer dreams about a time machine that would allow hearing a concert that was so exceptional that they could return to the day before to alert readers not to miss something extraordinary. Such is the case with the superb recital by Uzbek-born pianist Anna Malikova on June 17, as presented by PianoTexas International Academy and Festival. This will surely be on my Top Ten list for 2018.
Part of what made her extraordinary performance such an amazing experience is the fact that she is practically unknown in this country and thus new to me as well. In fact, the Fort Worth appearance was her first performance in the U.S. However, she’s highly respected almost everywhere else, from Australia to a large swath of Europe and other nearby countries. Her career really took off in 1993 when she won the prestigious German-sponsored ARD Competition in Munich.
In keeping with the Russia theme of the entire PianoTexas Festival, her program featured virtuoso works by Prokofiev, Scriabin and Tchaikovsky.
The program opened with Sergei Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives, Op. 22, a series of 20 very short pieces with each lasting from one to two minutes. Malikova used these vignettes to explore some of the many faces of the composer’s musical language and influences, as well as his favorite piano techniques.
Two works by Alexander Scriabin followed. She played his Ètude C-sharp minor, Op. 42, No. 5, and his Sonata No. 5 in F-sharp major, Op. 53.
An ètude is a composition that is centered around one particular technical skill and purposely difficult to play. Scriabin wrote 26 of these over his entire compositional career; they act like a musical biography of this highly original composer’s stylistic periods. The eight ètudes that make up his Op. 42 are part of his third period. Malikova played No. 5, which is the best known of the set and is huge in concept. Malikova took full advantage of this glacially scaled ètude and took us on a trip through time and space.
The one-movement F-sharp minor sonata followed without a break. In Malikova’s hands, it was 12 or so minutes of incredible intensity. She led us through the composer’s thicket of vague tonality, which never really settles in any traditional key or has a completely consonant chord. Her new recording of all of Scriabin’s sonatas is receiving adulatory reviews and, after hearing this performance, the copies for sale at intermission vanished quickly.
The second half of the program featured the suite from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty as arranged for virtuosic piano by Mikhail Pletnev. Here, Malikova’s range of musical interpretation was on full display as she caught the individuality of each of the solo dances. The duet between the two cats meowed convincingly while the famous Adagio was elegantly impassioned.
All of the above were impeccably played with exceptional interpretive expertise without even a touch of the superfluous flash that mars performances by some of today’s concert pianists. However, it was her use of played dynamics that sets her apart from her colleagues. All too often, pianists apply the same dynamic playing to what’s going on in any moment. However, music is rarely written that way. Often, one hand is accompanying the other so it needs to be noticeably underneath.
Malikova went way beyond this simple example. Frequently, there were three levels of dynamics going on and even four on occasion. It was quite remarkable and revealed hidden wonders that are rarely, if ever, heard in performance.
The piano-centric audience knew that they were hearing something exceptional and gave her an enthusiastic ovation that she rewarded with two short encores. The applause continued even after the lights came on, until the genial Malikova stepped out and waved goodbye in appreciation.
Next up at Piano Texas is pianist Dmitri Alexeev on Saturday June 23 at 7:30 in PepsiCo Hall on the campus of TCU. 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