Beethoven / Ravel / Liszt / Liszt/Paganini
Alte Kantonsschule, Zurich, 2022-10-22
2022-10-29 — Original posting
Bewegende, höchst eindrückliche Begegnung mit der Ukrainischen Pianistin Tetiana Shafran— Zusammenfassung
Die 1989 in Kiev geborene Pianistin Tetiana Shafran (Тетяна Шафран) hat auf einer Vielzahl von Wettbewerben Erfolge gefeiert. Dennoch ist sie in Teilen Westeuropas noch ein weitgehend “unbeschriebenes Blatt”. In diesem Rezital in der Aula der Alten Kantonsschule Zürich bestätigte sie, was Insider aufgrund vereinzelter Auftritte bereits wussten: sie ist ein Ausnahmetalent mit höchster Musikalität und überragenden technischen Mitteln.
Ihr Rezital führte von der Sonata Nr.2 in A-dur, op.2/2 von Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) zur Sonatine, M.40 von Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). Nach der Pause folgte ein Höhepunkt dem anderen: zwei Werke von Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849): das selten gespielte Rondo in Es-dur, op.16 (B.76, CT 195), sowie das tief empfundene Nocturne Nr.17 in H-dur, op.62/1 (CT 124). Das offizielle Programm schloss mit zwei Werken von Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886): die virtuos-dramatische Ballade Nr.2 in h-moll, S.171, sowie aus den 6 Grandes Études de Paganini die bekannte Étude Nr.3 in gis-moll, “La Campanella”, S.141/3. Den Abschluss machte eine Zugabe des ukrainischen Komponsisten Mykola Lysenko (1842 – 1912): aus den Trois Pièces d’Album d’été, op.41 die Nr.3, Élégie.
Table of Contents
- Concert & Review
- A Preamble
- Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.2 in A major, op.2/2
- Ravel: Sonatine , M.40
- Gestures, Mimics, Hands…
- Chopin: Rondo in E♭ major, op.16, B.76, CT 195
- Chopin: Nocturne No.17 in B major, op.62/1, CT 124
- Liszt: Ballade No.2 in B minor, S.171
- Liszt: 6 Grandes Études de Paganini — Étude No.3 G♯ minor, “La Campanella”, S.141/3
- Encore — Lysenko: Trois Pièces d’Album d’été 1902, op.41 — 3. Élégie
- Addendum: Tetiana Shafran on YouTube
|Venue, Date & Time||Aula of the Alte Kantonsschule Zürich, 2022-10-22 11:30h|
|Series / Title||Musik an ETHZ und UZH — Matinee: Piano Recital Tetiana Shafran|
|Reviews from related events||Concerts organized by Musical Discovery|
Previous recitals at the Alte Kantonsschule Zürich
Tetiana Shafran (Тетяна Шафран), Ukraine
The Ukrainian pianist Tetiana Shafran is very much underrated in Western Europe, I believe. Born 1989 in Kyiv / Kiev, she started playing piano at age 3. She graduated in her hometown, at Kyiv’s Lysenko Special Music School, and at the Kyiv Conservatory, known as Pyotr Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine. Her main teachers were Boris Arkhimovich and Andriy Vasin (up till 2012), and 2013 – 2021, she studied with Oxana Yablonskaya (*1938, Spain and Israel).
To this day, Tetiana Shafran has collected over 25 prizes at national and international competitions, and she has performed at prestigious concert halls / venues throughout Europe, North and South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia (see the artist’s Web biography, as well as Vida Art Management).
- Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): Piano Sonata No.2 in A major, op.2/2
- Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937): Sonatine, M.40
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849): Rondo in E♭ major, op.16, B.76, CT 195
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849): Nocturne No.17 in B major, op.62/1, CT 124
- Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886): Ballade No.2 in B minor, S.171
- Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886): 6 Grandes Études de Paganini — Étude No.3 G♯ minor, “La Campanella“, S.141/3
Considering the outcome of the recital (see below), it felt rather disappointing to see that audience filled less than half of the venue, which has a capacity of around 100 people. However, lunch time events typically attract fewer people than “prime time concerts”. I took a seat near the center of the seating area, a corridor seat in the right-hand side block.
The piano was the small size Yamaha grand that the Institution (Zurich University) placed in this venue.
Concert & Review
First, a confession of sorts: I set myself the firm rule to write about all concerts that I’m attending (exceptions only with local / private events). However, recently, I realized that there are instances where I really meant to attend a concert, but did not see a chance to write a review in reasonable time. Usually, this implies that I will skip a concert. A few months ago, I found myself breaking that rule, when I attended a presentation of four young pianists, back on 2022-05-07. That event had been organized by the same agency (Musical Discovery), in the very same venue (Alte Kantonsschule Zürich).
The concert on 2022-05-07 was a highly interesting and rewarding experience, as from one pianist to the next, the level of the performance was rapidly growing from good to excellent. It reached an undisputable climax with the last artist, Tetiana Shafran, who was presenting Chopin’s op.16 (see below), as well as the highly virtuosic last movement, “Scarbo“, from “Gaspard de la nuit“, M.55, by Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937). Tetiana Shafran’s performance was so fabulous that I could not possibly miss this latest recital, almost half a year later.
A Missed Review Opportunity?
The decision not to review the concert in May was made beforehand. I did not take notes, hence can’t produce a review in the aftermath. Actually, it wasn’t just time constraints that led to that decision. Rather it was the experience from yet another similar event, back in 2019, also with four pianists, which I did review.
In such “multi-recitals”, the performance level will invariably vary between the artists. In “proper” solo recitals, my rating may be anything between mid-level to high. An artist may or may not explain such rating with the circumstances, the attention and mood of the reviewer, and the like. In “multi-recitals”, however, artists receiving lower ratings than others may view this as unfair setback relative to their contenders. They may feel that the rating does not reflect their serious efforts.
In the instance that I’m referring to, the artist contacted me, complaining about the rating. Luckily, I was able to resolve that issue in a friendly manner, the “affair” is now resolved in good terms. Still, I decided to avoid such “competitive” recitals, where I see a danger of upsetting an artist.
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.2 in A major, op.2/2
Composer & Work
I have written about performances (2019 & 2020) of this sonata in earlier reviews.
One might call it perfect understatement—only that it probably wasn’t the artist’s conscious decision: how Tetiana Shafran entered the hall and walked towards the instrument. Cautious, seemingly shy, maybe insecure, as if she was slightly embarrassed. She greeted the audience with a brief bow, then sat down at the instrument, considerate and careful, making sure her position was “right”. Even her reaching into the keyboard was considerate, reflected, not impulsive.
From then on, she kept all her focus on the instrument, on the keys even, rarely raising her eyes for a glimpse into the instrument. Tetiana Shafran was never seeking eye contact with the audience while playing—a resting pole amidst all the music that emerged from the instrument. More on this below.
I. Allegro vivace
A movement for the listener to get to know the artist—and conversely, for the artist, to “settle in the venue”, to establish mental / emotional contact with the audience. An excellent interpretation—though at this point, I wasn’t overwhelmed just yet (was I perhaps overly critical at the opening of the recital?).
I noted the natural tempo (neither slow nor aggressive), the harmonious, rounded articulation. And particularly the highly differentiated, “speaking” dynamics (e.g., the subtle differentiation between the two hands, the voices), the impressive sonority in the ff. Did the interpretation perhaps make the movement “bigger”, more powerful than the composer could have envisaged on the instruments of his time?
One detail that caught my attention was, that the artist took the second theme (bars 58ff) at a slightly (but notably) faster pace. She did the same in the recap section, in bars 277ff. Tetiana Shafran returned to the original pace at the ff in bars 84ff, slowing further down for the closing of the exposition, which she interpreted implicit fermata. The repeat of the exposition was omitted.
II. Largo appassionato
I may have been critical about the first movement. However, the interpretation of the Largo appassionato was definitely marvelous, masterful! Calm, pensive, reflected, highly differentiated and subtle in dynamics and agogics: those little ritenuti / hesitations ahead of an accent / key note or chord! So intense, full of expression, memories, emotion—beautiful and touching!
Interestingly, as in the first movement, the second theme (p at bars 19ff) again felt lighter, a tad more fluid. Conversely, the modulation in bar 26 appeared to make the music feel earnest, serious, even pondering, up to the climax prior to the return of the initial theme in bar 32.
III. Scherzo: Allegretto
Light, agile up to the repeat sign, with excellent touch control. The starting motifs (descant upbeats to bars 1 and 5) in repeat of the first part appeared f, as exclamations / signals, more intense. A striking feature was the slightly extended two-quarter general rest after the ff in bar 17: an intentionally frightful split second! And no, this was not a memory lapse, of course: Tetiana Shafran did it again in the Da capo instance.
Another interesting feature in the interpretation was the subtle acceleration in the descending (repeated) first part of the Minore part.
IV. Rondo: Grazioso
Light-handed, but again with very rich and detailed dynamics, such as sudden crescendo / decrescendo arcs. I felt a slight tendency to over-dramatize (my only quibble here). One example is the bass motif in bar 12, which started almost ff (above the second quaver, Beethoven noted pp). Also in the (definitely dramatic) staccato sempre episode (bars 57ff), the dynamics remained exceptionally lively, detailed and expressive.
As in the first movement, I sensed a tendency to make the piece “bigger” than what the composer could have had in mind (considering a historic fortepiano!). It’s one of Beethoven’s early sonatas, after all.
Overall Rating: ★★★★½
Ravel: Sonatine, M.40
Composer & Work
- Modéré (moderate)
- Mouvement de Menuet
Tetiana Shafran just briefly rose from the bench to accept the applause for the Beethoven sonata, then she returned to the keyboard to start Ravel’s Sonatine without further ado:
To me, this was a (relatively) “classic” interpretation—in an excellent performance. I really liked how Tetiana Shafran could make the melody in the descant sing above the lively “underground”. I can’t quite pinpoint why the interpretation felt “classic” rather than “French / impressionist”. Did I perhaps expect a lighter, more “airy”, maybe more casual, more bodiless, less “engaged” / active interpretation?
I don’t think I’m biased by performances on CD—the only recording I have in my collection is a 1951 recording by Walter Gieseking (1895 – 1956). In preparation for this recital, I didn’t even listen to that recording. However, I did so now, and I very much prefer what I remember from Tetiana Shafran’s recital.
II. Mouvement de Menuet
I may have had reservations about the “French” tone in the first movement—however, this now was excellent! Fragrant, highly atmospheric—and these colorful, delicate sonorities, the subtleties in the rubato…
Brilliant, a virtuosic firework, colorful, and just as atmospheric as the middle movement, seamless in the transitions—I can’t think of anything that I could have been missing here: masterful, congrats!
Overall Rating: ★★★★½
Gestures, Mimics, Hands…
You may note that among the numerous pictures in this review, there are many which do not show the artist while playing. That’s not because of lack of pictures (I took well over 400 total, most of them with the pianist “in action”). However…
In terms of body language, gestures, facial mimics, etc., Tetiana Shafran is a prime example of an artist being inconspicuous, if not “neutral” on stage. Not only did she barely move her body, even her head, but also her facial expression showed no signs of the emotions in the music she was performing. All one could see was concentration and total focus on the keyboard—and the music, of course. As she performed the entire recital from memory, there was also no need to look up a score or sheet music. Naturally, she was observing her hands and fingers. However, I can’t say I ever saw her frowning or raising her eyebrows in difficult passages—she didn’t look challenged at all—ever.
In compensation for the lack of “spectacular action pictures”, I decided to harvest my collection for pictures showing the artist’s arms and fingers, even though my position did not permit observing the action of the fingers on the keys. To non-pianists, this may offer little or no insight into “how the artist did it”. However, I still felt you might find this interesting? What the pictures below should show is that the artist’s arm, hand, and finger movements were all natural, relaxed and harmonious at all times—effortless, irrespective of the technical challenges in the chosen program.
Chopin: Rondo in E♭ major, op.16, B.76, CT 195
Composer & Work
Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849) wrote his Rondo in E♭ major, op.16, B.76, CT 195 in 1833. The piece is sometimes also called “Introduction and Rondo”—it consists of an Introduction (Andante, 4/4, ♩= 84, later Più mosso, ♩= 152) in C minor that precedes the Rondo in E♭ major (Allegro vivace, 2/4, ♩= 96).
Chopin’s oeuvre is not huge, with opus numbers up to around 70. With that many pianists performing Chopin (often day in, day out), one should assume that all or most of Chopin’s works receive adequate “coverage”. Yet, the composer’s op.16 is not heard often in concert. Also the number of available recordings is relatively small. In one source (IDAGIO), I found recordings with 19 artists, that’s few in comparison to recordings of most other works by this composer. Even for some of the well-known “Chopin specialists”—Arthur Rubinstein (1887 – 1982) among them—there is no recording of this piece.
Wikipedia mentions that the op.16 is technically challenging. But, I don’t think that this is the main reason for the lack in popularity. Technically, it may indeed be one of the more (most) demanding compositions by Chopin, however…
In preparation for this concert, I wanted to listen to one recording of op.16 (which I hadn’t heard beforehand). I did not select Tetiana Shafran’s video performance (see below), but an audio recording by another artist. I noted that in the selected interpretation, the composition felt strangely “unwieldy”, maybe fragmented. My conclusion: op.16 isn’t just technically challenging, but just as much musically demanding. Hence maybe the lack of popularity with artists?
Relative to the composer’s metronome mark (♩= 84), the very beginning maybe felt a tad fluid—but that is immaterial, given Tetiana Shafran’s rich, expressive agogics. And already in bar 13, Chopin notes agitato—and the artist made the music gradually build up. The con forza in bar 15 wasn’t instantaneous, but definitely built up, culminating in the glittering, brilliant transition to the Più mosso part. Here, Tetiana Shafran’s performance livened up, definitely felt highly virtuosic, and just as much dramatic as theatrical.
I was most impressed by the artist’s technical prowess. However, even more so, I was amazed how compelling, how consistent the interpretation felt. Where some interpretations may feel fragmented, incoherent, Tetiana Shafran effortlessly was able to build a compelling, enthralling dramatic arch: all of a sudden, it all made sense, it even revealed a true masterwork!
Despite the inherent technical intricacies, the Rondo theme felt light, playful—not just in the subtle dynamics, the effortless articulation, but also in the “casual” rubato. And these beautiful, catchy melodies! The music often bubbling in free-flowing emotions, lyrical at times, then again building up to sparkling flashes and parades. An almost extreme kaleidoscope of changing emotions, sceneries.
Completely detached from technicalities (do these even exist for this artist?), Tetiana Shafran was able to shape this extremely multi-faceted composition into a true, compelling and enthralling masterwork that entirely made sense. I was baffled, speechless!
Chopin: Nocturne No.17 in B major, op.62/1, CT 124
Composer & Work
Among Chopin‘s 21 (or 22) Nocturnes, the two pieces in op.62 (No.17 and No.18) are the composer’s last contributions to the genre (Nos.19 – 22 are earlier compositions that were published at a later date).
Among the two pieces in op.62, the Nocturne No.17 in B major, op.62/1, CT 124 is among Chopin’s most masterful compositions. At the same time, with its introverted, introspective and retracting ending, it is infinitely sad and touching. I’m not the only one who associates that ending with death…
Tetiana Shafran’s superb interpretation of Chopin’s Rondo op.16 revealed a masterpiece. After that, her performance of the Nocturne op.62/1 was overwhelming in its intensity and depth. Hard to tell how much the circumstances in Ukraine have contributed to this on the part of the artist, and/or on the part of the listener?
Almost extreme (but definitely fitting) in the rich agogics: those hesitations / ritenuti, the tension in every single bar / phrase, between successive notes even, as well as between phrases! The fermata prior to the modulation to A♭ major almost extended to a little eternity, where time seemed to come to halt…
And so subtle and sensitive in touch and dynamics, always paying attention to secondary voices. All this timeless, detached from rhythmic frameworks / constraints, opening up vast spaces of imagination—in every phrase, almost in every interval. Then, of course, the celestial beauty of the transfiguration in the last 15 bars, transcending into the infinitely touching, irreversible farewell of the last bars—is there any music more touching than this? Moving to tears, indeed…
There was a long silence after this performance. Nobody dared to applaud. The pianist kept her hands on the keyboard until the time felt “right” to begin Liszt’s Ballade…
Liszt: Ballade No.2 in B minor, S.171
Composer & Work
Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) created a huge number of works for piano solo—original compositions and transcriptions. Within the original compositions oeuvre, there are two Ballades: Ballade No.1 in D♭ major, S.170, and the more popular Ballade No.2 in B minor, S.171, composed 1853. Ballade No.2 also exists in an earlier version, listed as S.170a. The main tempo annotations are as follows:
- Allegro moderato — Lento assai — Allegretto — Tempo I — Lento assai — Allegretto — Allegro deciso — Allegretto — Tempestoso — Allegretto — Allegro moderato — Precipitato — Grandioso — Andantino
What a contrast to the Nocturne! Menacing, rolling thunder in the bass, building up to an impending disaster, which suddenly dissolves into a recitative. Celestial sounds (Lento assai — Allegretto) appear to distract from the imminent catastrophe. The grumbling in the bass returns, now more intense. A second “celestial” segment seeks to appease—in vain! The Allegro deciso is a definitive call to arms, leading to war. It was astounding to observe what volume / sonority Tetiana Shafran was able to evoke from the small grand (though never exceeding the constraints of the instrument).
War? For Real?
I had no doubt that this wasn’t just the artist’s genuine, superb performance, but a hard core description / representation of what the artist is experiencing in Kyiv, what the Ukrainians throughout their homeland are going through right now: truly scary, frightening! With this, the “celestial” segments / moments weren’t outlooks into a world beyond, but rather dreams, reminiscences of better times. True, Liszt’s composition is a highly dramatic masterwork—but the given circumstances caused Tetiana Shafran’s interpretation almost to burst from intensity.
Despite all the realism in this performance (which Liszt can’t possibly have anticipated): the piece also offered hope and relief, through the uplifting apotheosis in the grandiose last part—and with respect to Ukraine (and all the other, ongoing disasters in this world), we are definitely in need of hope!
An intense, exhausting, overwhelming performance, in which virtuosity never was purpose in itself, or mere show, but a genuine means of expression in an operatic drama. The “Brava!” call from a competent voice in rear of the hall was sincere and more than justified!
Liszt: 6 Grandes Études de Paganini — Étude No.3 G♯ minor, “La Campanella”, S.141/3
Composer & Work
As last piece in her official program, Tetiana Shafran remained with Franz Liszt, selecting one of the composer’s 6 Grandes Études de Paganini, S.141. These are virtuosic showpieces, originally written 1838, as Études d’exécution transcendante d’après Paganini, S.140. 1851, Liszt published revised versions of these studies, now known as 6 Grandes Études de Paganini, S.141. Among these, the Étude No.3 G♯ minor, “La Campanella“, S.141/3 is the most popular one. It is written after the final movement of the Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor, op.7 by Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840), but also includes first theme in the final movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No.1 in E♭ major, op.6.
Tetiana Shafran approached this well-known study with a rather fluid tempo—but beyond virtuosic, rather playful and light, with singing melodies / cantilenas, demonstrating her astounding control of touch and sonority. No show again—to the contrary: the listener wasn’t even aware of the virtuosic challenges. True, lighter entertainment this time, but beautiful music nevertheless, and a highly artful performance!
At the end of the official program, it was so refreshing and gratifying to watch how Tetiana Shafran’s facial expression opened up, as she was able to let go of the focus and concentration, revealing a glimpse onto her lovely, beautiful self:
Encore — Lysenko: Trois Pièces d’Album d’été 1902, op.41 — 3. Élégie
Composer & Work
Given the circumstances around the time of this recital (the Russian invasion in Ukraine and the associated atrocities / war crimes committed by the invaders), ending the recital with Liszt’s popular showpiece seemed inappropriate. Not surprisingly, as encore, Tetiana Shafran selected a reflective piece by a Ukrainian composer: much appreciated—and needed!
Mykola Lysenko (1842 – 1912) was the central figure of Ukrainian music in his time. He also was pianist, conductor and ethnomusicologist. The encore was the one of Lysenko’s Trois Pièces d’Album d’été 1902, op.41: the last of these pieces, 3. Élégie (Mesto, moderato, in F♯ minor).
In the given circumstances, ending a recital with Liszt’s “Campanella” didn’t seem quite right. Especially at a time when even non-Ukrainian artists often select a Ukrainian encore. Tetiana Shafran’s choice was a much-needed complement to the drama in Liszt’s Ballade, an “amendment” to the playful, light-hearted virtuosity in “La Campanella“.
Mykola Lysenko’s Elegy probably uses Ukrainian folk melodies. At the same time, it is deeply reflecting, showing melancholy, sadness, while also offering consolation—and hope. There could not have been a better encore than this!
A stellar experience with a fabulous artist who deserves all the support that we can give. We offer Tetiana Shafran our best wishes for a successful career and hope for many more opportunities to witness her art!
The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko (Musical Discovery) for the invitation to this recital.
Addendum: Tetiana Shafran on YouTube
- The Rondo in E♭ major, op.16, B.76, CT 195 by Frédéric Chopin in a performance at the International Arthur Rubinstein Competition 2021.
- An impressive “Rach 3” performance, i.e., the Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, op.30 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943), with the ossia cadenza in the first movement. That performance took place in Albuquerque, NM, USA, in 2019, after Tetiana Shafran’s win at the Olga Kern International Piano Competition 2019. Sadly, Orchestra and conductor—the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra under Roberto Minczuk (*1967) didn’t always perform at the soloist’s level.
I have now also included this recording in my discussion of performances of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3.