Luka Okros
D. Scarlatti / Chopin / Liszt / Rachmaninoff

Aula der Universität, Zurich, 2022-03-24

0.5-star rating

2022-03-31 — Original posting


Luka Okros
Luka Okros (© Egor Matasov)

Table of Contents


Introduction

Venue, Date & TimeAula der Universität, Zurich, 2022-03-24, 19:30h
Series / TitleMusik an ETHZ und UZH — Piano Recital Luka Okros
OrganizerMusical Discovery
Reviews from related eventsPrevious recitals in the Main Convention Hall (Aula) at Zurich University
Concerts organized by Musical Discovery

The Artist: Luka Okros, Piano

Luka Okros (actually Luka Okrostsvaridz, see also Wikipedia) is a Georgian pianist, born 1991 in Tbilisi. Okros received his basic piano education from the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, where he studied with Sergei Dorensky (1931 – 2020). From there, he moved on to the Royal College of Music in London where he studied with Norma Fisher (*1940). Luka Okros now lives in London.

Wikipedia mentions 12 awards that Luka Okros has won. The most recent ones are a 3rd prize at the Scottish International Piano Competition (2017), and the first prize at the Hannover Chopin International Piano Competition. These awards ensured the successful launch of an international career as concert pianist.

Wikipedia also states that Luka Okros is also an Instagram influencer, as well as a composer. The article mentions several piano compositions, as well as a piano trio as compositorial oeuvre.

Luka Okros’ instrument in this recital was a Steinway model B-211 mid-size grand piano.


Program


Setting, etc.

“Back to normal after the pandemic”, one is tempted to say: the main assembly hall (Aula) of Zurich University was about as full as it usually gets with concerts that Musical Discovery organizes. I did not count the audience members, but a quick estimate indicated that there were somewhat above 100 persons in the hall. My own position (as usually in this venue) was in the right-hand side block, somewhere around row 7 – 8.


Concert & Review

Domenico Scarlatti
Domenico Scarlatti

Domenico Scarlatti: 4 Sonatas

Composer & Work

Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) has written over 555 keyboard sonatas—a vast “playground” to choose from! For his recital, Luka Okros selected 4 sonatas, all in D minor, forming a kind of four-movement (baroque) sonata or suite (slow — fast — slow — fast):

  • K.32 in D minor: Aria
  • K.9 in D minor: Allegro
  • K.213 in D minor: Andante
  • K.141 in D minor: Allegro

The most common and most complete numbering system for Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas is the one that the harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911 – 1984) put together (K.xxx numbers) in 1953. Other, less complete numbering schemes exist, such as the “L.” or “Longo” numbering, introduced 1906 by Alessandro Longo (1864 – 1945). There is also the “P.” numbering from 1967 by Giorgio Pestelli (*1938), which allegedly corrects chronological errors in the Kirkpatrick catalog. The Wikipedia article referred to above includes a sortable concordance between all these (and another, historic one).

The Performance

Luka Okros performed the four sonatas quasi-attacca, with virtually no pause between the pieces.

K.32 — D minor: Aria

Calm, warm sonority, melancholic, gentle. The latter especially applied to the ornaments. These were actually too gentle & mellow: the composer does not write ornaments as appoggiaturas. He rather spells them out in full. Already the beginning in the right hand starts with two demisemiquavers and a semiquaver on the first beat (3/8, followed by two quavers). I understand that often, one cannot transfer harpsichord notation straight to the piano. However, I don’t see a treason to convert the first three notes to a triplet. This alters the character of the melody line. Luka Okros did this consequently, throughout the piece. The problem with this is that it made this three-note motif sound like an upbeat, whereas the original demisemiquavers act as an accent on the first beat.

I don’t see a reason to “soften” the notation, as by default, the piano already lacks articulation poignancy compared to the harpsichord. On the other hand, the piano offers the option to use dynamics. However, that should not be exaggerated, given that baroque keyboard instruments had very little, if any possibilities to add dynamics (other than adding / subtracting or switching stops). In that sense, I was happy to note that Luka Okros’ limited the dynamics to broad, gentle arches.
★★★

K.9 — D minor: Allegro

A very “pianistic” interpretation, as opposed to the original on the harpsichord. Compared to the poignancy of fast notes on the latter, Luka Okros’ semiquaver runs felt somewhat “washed out”, lacking clarity—on the piano, should one use a slightly slower pace? Also in the quaver-dominated segments, the performance sounded rather legato—too much use of the sustain pedal? Should one use the pedal at all in this music? On the other hand, the performance was undeniably playful, light in the character.
★★★½

K.213 — D minor: Andante

Elegiac, reflective, calm, melancholic, warm in the tone, moderate, gentle dynamic build-up—serene, lucid: beautiful! Was it just my impression that towards the end, the pace was a tiny bit faster? No, it didn’t really hurt—it was just enough for me to notice…
★★★★

K.141 — D minor: Allegro

A true study—Essercizi, as the composer called them—training articulation in fast and repeated notes in the right hand. On the harpsichord, that mainly a question of dexterity and precision in timing. On the modern piano, it’s just as much a question of touch and interaction with the piano mechanics. Luka Okros’ touch sounded relatively mellow, and the tempo was at the limit where the semiquavers (repeated notes and scales) started to sound a tad superficial, occasionally lacking clarity. A little too pianistic in the approach?
★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★½

Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric Chopin, c. 1849

Chopin: 4 Nocturnes

Composer & Work

Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849) wrote 21 Nocturnes (22, if one includes the spurious Nocturne “No.22” in C-sharp minor, a.k.a. “Nocturne oubliée“). Luka Okros selected the following four pieces for his recital:

Luka Okros @ Aula, Zurich University, 2022-03-24
Luka Okros @ Aula, Zurich University, 2022-03-24
(© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

The Performance

No.2 in E♭ major, op.9/2: Andante, CT 109

Maybe I’m spoilt by some of the excellent Nocturne interpretations that I witnessed over the past 10+ years? I know, these are not Mazurki. But still, Luka Okros’ Nocturnes felt too “straight”, lacking mystery, atmosphere. The pianist did apply some agogics, but very little rubato (the former is within bars, the latter over larger phrases). I’m not a pianist, but to me, the artist’s touch was too straight, too synchronous between the two hands. And I missed some extra ritenuto at the peak of phrases, or at the end of a phrase. Rather, there were occasional, subtle accelerandi—almost unnoticeable, but enough to affect the tension across a phrase.
★★★

No.15 in F minor, op.55/1: Andante, CT 122

Also here: rather straight in the touch, (too) little agogics. The artist seemed to consider rubato only where the composer noted “riten.“. The more agitated middle part instilled drive (e.g., in the octave parallels in the bass) rather than intensity. Shouldn’t there be more tension, suspense?
★★★

No.4 in F major, op.15/1: Andante cantabile — Con fuoco — Tempo I, CT 111

There were instances of a slightly delayed right hand in the Andante cantabile part. However, the interpretation still felt a little too much “in foreground”, lacking atmosphere. The Con fuoco part starts with f. Here, it broke in like an sfz explosion, rather hard altogether. And where Chopin adds ff (the first climax), there seemed to be no dynamic reserves. The ff felt weaker than the opening if the Con fuoco part.
★★★½

No.20 in C♯ minor, op.posth.: Lento con gran espressione, CT 127

Still a little (too) straight, direct, but probably the best Nocturne interpretation in this set. At bar #21, there is a transition to pp (later, the composer added sotto voce), which to me is the beginning of a more intimate, intense middle part. I was hoping for more of a contrast in atmosphere. Conversely, at the end of the middle part, the melody seems to ascend into heaven, dies away, into a fermata. Is the Tempo I at this point really just “same as above”? To me, that part involves some transformation: last / final, intense memories of an emote past, followed by an intense, intimate transfiguration in the final bars. I wished there would have been a little more agogics / rubato in those semiquaver waves…
★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★

For the second half of his recital, Luka Okros switched to highly virtuosic, (post-)romantic repertoire:

Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff
Sergei Rachmaninoff

Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonata No.2 in B♭ minor, op.36

Composer & Work

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) Composed his Piano Sonata No.2 in B♭ minor, op.36 in 1913, three years after completing his Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, op.30. I have written about performances of this sonata in concerts on 2015-11-27 in Zurich, on 2019-01-04 in Geneva, and on 2019-11-19, again in Zurich. Here, I’ll just mention the movements:

  1. Allegro agitato — Meno mosso — Poco Più mosso — Tempo I — Meno mosso
  2. Non Allegro — Lento — Poco più mosso — Tempo I
  3. L’istesso tempo — Allegro molto — A tempo, poco meno mosso — Tempo I — Più mosso — Tempo rubato — Presto

Of the two versions of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No.2, the artist selected the shorter, revised version from 1931, in which the composer left out sections that he felt were unnecessary. This is the version that most artists perform in concert today. There are also some simplifications compared to the original composition from 1913.

Luka Okros @ Aula, Zurich University, 2022-03-24
Luka Okros @ Aula, Zurich University, 2022-03-24
(© Rolf Kyburz, all rights reserved)

The Performance

I. Allegro agitato — Meno mosso — Poco Più mosso — Tempo I — Meno mosso

A powerful, impressive interpretation, demonstrating the artist’s excellent technical abilities and power reserves. I noted some rhythmic “softening” in the Meno mosso part, and in the Poco più mosso, I occasionally missed some extra rhythmic poignancy. In general, the sound seemed to indicate a slight excess in sustain pedal. However, some (or most) of this may be attributable to limitations of the instrument, which doesn’t really compare to a full-size (D-274) concert grand. Overall, I didn’t have the impression of an “aggressively virtuosic show performance”.

II. Non Allegro — Lento — Poco più mosso — Tempo I

A calm pace, beautiful singing in the descant—maybe lacking some intensity in the narration? In the Poco più mosso part, though, limitations in the mid-size grand may have contributed to that lack of intensity.

III. L’istesso tempo — Allegro molto — A tempo, poco meno mosso — Tempo I — Più mosso — Tempo rubato — Presto

The last movement demonstrated that Luka Okros clearly has all technical means to master this pianistic challenge—and he did. I noted an occasional lack in clarity, e.g., in the build-up towards the A tempo, poco meno mosso. I wasn’t able to decide whether that was due to a slight excess in sustain pedal (I could not see the dampers or the pedals), or whether the instrument was to blame, or the acoustics. Luka Okros certainly unleashed all forces in the final, impressive Presto build-up.

Rating: ★★★½

It’s too bad that a full-size concert grand is not available at this venue. For some of the occasional mellowness and lack in clarity one may blame the instrument. What is sure, though, is that the Steinway B-211 had limitations in the bass sonority, both in definition and clarity. It could not compete with a “proper” concert grand, for which Rachmaninoff has written this sonata.


Franz Liszt, 1858
Franz Liszt, 1858

Liszt: Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254

Composer & Work

Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) composed his Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254, R.90, in 1863. For information on the composition see also my earlier report from a concert in Zurich, on 2016-02-09. There is also a report from a second recital on 2018-09-06 featuring this composition. The rhapsody is performed in one piece. It features two main sections, separated by a fermata, each forming its own dramatic and virtuosic arch. And virtuosic it is, indeed—a real showpiece! Here are the tempo annotations:

  • Lento — Andante moderato (Folies d’Espagne) — Allegro animato — Allegro (Jota aragonesa)
  • Un poco meno Allegro — Molto vivace — Sempre presto e ff — Non troppo allegro

The Performance

Lento — Andante moderato (Folies d’Espagne) — Allegro animato — Allegro (Jota aragonesa)

Without doubt: Luka Okros saved the best part of his recital to the very end! Highly virtuosic, excellent in clarity, touch, shiny sonority in the descant. And in the Folies d’Espagne, even the bass sonority seemed better than ever before. Only some of the punctuations felt slightly softened. I liked the dynamic balance, the agility in the Jota aragonesa. The latter was highly atmospheric in its “Spanish spirit”, the lucidity of the chimes in the high descant. And yet, Luka Okros didn’t present it as a bloated virtuoso piece.

Un poco meno Allegro — Molto vivace — Sempre presto e ff — Non troppo allegro

The contrast to the Un poco meno Allegro seemed rather stark. However, that’s just because the preceding Jota is in semiquavers almost throughout, ending in a demisemiquaver tremolo. This movement is a true Lisztian showpiece! After a recitative-introduction, the Folies theme is re-introduced dolce grazioso, the espressivo, soon building tension. Leggiero interjections lead into a gradual, enthralling build-up to a breathtaking climax. Luka Okros took this at a neck-breaking pace, up to the limits of the piano mechanics. Yet, the performance wasn’t hollow virtuosity, not pure show: fascinating, for sure!

Rating: ★★★★

Encores

Luka Okros performed three encores. He did not announce them, which I usually regret. Here, however, that omission was hardly a reason for complaints: all three encores instantly “ring a bell”.

Johann Sebastian Bach, ca. 1722
Johann Sebastian Bach
Alexander Siloti
Alexander Siloti

Siloti: Prelude in B minor, after Bach’s Prelude in E minor, BWV 855a

Alexander Siloti (Aleksandr Ilyich Siloti, also Ziloti / Алекса́ндр Ильи́ч Зило́ти, 1863 – 1945) was a Ukrainian pianist, conductor and composer, born in Kharkiv. Today, he is known not so much for original compositions, but for a large body of over 200 piano transcriptions. Among these, the most well-known is his Prelude in B minor, an arrangement of the Prelude in E minor, BWV 855a by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750), the No.18 (“Praeludium 5“) in the 1720 “Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, a collection of keyboard works for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 – 1784).

Performance

I don’t think anybody expected another virtuoso piece as encore. Indeed, Luka Okros selected Siloti’s calm, atmospheric Bach transcription, which offered well-deserved physical relief and recovery. Siloti’s transcription is of course “more romantic than Bach”—yet, despite the stark contrast, it was fitting very well, offering recovery and calm also to the audience!

Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3 — No.2: Prélude in C♯ minor

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943) completed his five Morceaux de fantaisie, op.3 in 1892. The second one, Prélude in C♯ minor (op.3/2) clearly is the most well-known of these compositions. It became so popular that Rachmaninoff ended up hating it. He apparently called it “Frankenstein“. He later composed 23 additional Préludes: the 10 Préludes, op.23, from 1903, and the 13 Préludes, op.32, from 1910), hereby completing a cycle of 24 Préludes in all major and minor keys.

Performance

The second encore “pretended” to continue on Siloti’s calm mood. However, 2 – 3 chords were sufficient to reveal the identity of the piece. And the fact that the opening of Rachmaninoff’s “FrankensteinPrélude was just the beginning of a large, dramatic arch that culminates in pounding, thundering fff / pesante and sffff chords. Needless to say that this went up to (and beyond) the limits of the sonorous capacity of the instrument. A little too popular, after all??

Rachmaninoff: Six Moments musicaux, op.16 — Moment musical No.4 in E minor

Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Six Moments musicaux, op.16 in late 1896. The Moment musical No.4 in E minor is annotated Presto. Wikipedia states that it is a major exercise in endurance and accuracy, comparing it to Chopin’s “Revolutionary” Étude in C minor, op.10/12 in the taxing left hand figure (…) throughout.

Performance

The final piece was another one of Rachmaninoff’s “war horses”. Luka Okros performed it at a fast pace, to the point where the semiquaver sextuplets in the left hand started to blur. Also here, the acoustics and/or the instrument may have contributed to making the performance occasionally sound somewhat superficial. However, one should not scrutinize encores too much. The artist deserves respect for tackling this physical challenge at the end of a long, often technically demanding recital!


Acknowledgement

The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko (Musical Discovery) for the invitation to this recital.


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