Piano Recital: Yulianna Avdeeva
Debussy / Chopin / Mussorgsky
Aula KZO, Wetzikon ZH, 2019-02-02
As earlier instances, the Klavierissimo Festival 2019 / Top Klassik Zürcher Oberland featured a series of piano recitals. There were also teaching sessions by the main artists, as well as smaller recitals before or after the main events. The final day, on Saturday, 2019-02-02, featured several events. Here is the context of the recitals that I attended this year:
2019-01-31, 19:30h— Oliver Schnyder
2019-02-01, 19:30h— Alina Bercu
2019-02-02, 15:30h— Alice di Piazza
2019-02-02, 17:00h— Deszö Ránki
2019-02-02, 20:00h— Yulianna Avdeeva (this report)
The Artist: Yulianna Avdeeva
I started writing about Yulianna Avdeeva (*1985, see also Wikipedia) very early in my blog. And I’m happy to say that I had the chance to listen to her playing on numerous occasions, both on CD, on Live video, and of course in concerts. My first encounter with the artist was in 2008, in a private recital, before I even started blogging. Consequently, my blog covers several live encounters with Yulianna (all solo performances, except for the one duo evening):
2008-11-08:Private recital, Zurich area
2010-05-08:Private recital, Zurich area
2011-09-26:Tonhalle in Zurich
2018-02-02:Klavierissimo Festival in Wetzikon/ZH
2018-03-04:Duo recital at Tonhalle Maag in Zurich
And, of course, I have written about her huge success at the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, and I have discussed at least some of her CD recordings, such as in reviews of recordings of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, op.11, as well as Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, op.21, and more.
Starting with French repertoire, i.e., Debussy, Yulianna Avdeeva filled the first half with Chopin, music from the core of her repertoire, ever since she won the International Chopin Competition in 2010. After the intermission, she presented another, substantial addition to her concert repertoire: Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, which she will perform in recitals on this year’s concert tours. Here’s the overview of her program for Wetzikon:
- Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918): Estampes, L.100 (1903)
- Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1829):
- Modest Mussorgsky (1839 – 1881): Pictures at an Exhibition
The venue for all recitals in the Klavierissimo Festival is the theater-like main convention hall of the local high school (KZO), a semi-circular, ascending auditorium. The venue is actually too big for the number of people attending the recitals (it’s out in the countryside)—however, this has the advantage of letting everybody sit where they want (and all seats have excellent view onto the podium), and for a Steinway D-274 concert grand, a venue of that size certainly offers better sound than a small hall with “bathroom acoustics”!
I opted for a seat in the right-hand side block, around row 10 (half-way up): this gave me a good view for taking photos. I am not desperate about watching a pianist’s hands, as I’m following the score while also taking notes and operating the camera.
My comments on Yulianna’s Chopin performances may seem scarce: I’m essentially just putting my few, scribbled notes into phrases—I have commented on this artist’s Chopin playing often enough to start running out of words. My ratings speak for themselves: in my opinion, nobody plays Chopin better than Yulianna Avdeeva—and this evening’s recital was no exception in this.
Debussy: Estampes, L.100 (1903)
Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) completed his Estampes (“Prints”), L.100 in 1903. This composition consists of three movements:
- “Pagodes” (Pagodas): Modérément animé (moderately animated)
- “La soirée dans Grenade” (The Evening in Granada): Mouvement de Habanera
- “Jardins sous la pluie” (Gardens in the Rain): Net et vif (clean/neat and lively)
Almost exactly a year ago, in her recital at the Klavierissimo Festival 2018, I heard Yulianna perform music by Debussy for the first time: as encore, she selected the No.2, “La soirée dans Grenade” from the Estampes. As I liked her playing in this music last year, I was looking forward to hearing her play the entire set.
A piece written right into Yulianna’s fingers, profiting from her sense for rhythmic independence between the hands, and even more so her rubato that serves her so well in her Chopin playing! The piece is challenging in maintaining the flow with its constantly changing rhythmic pattern, the vertical and horizontal juxtaposition of even- and odd-numbered rhythms (e.g., demisemiquavers over quaver triplets)—and all this while covering the entire keyboard and a dynamic span from subtle pp to the full sonority of the concert grand. The artist kept the music flowing, with a (seemingly) free-floating pace, while maintaining clarity at all times, never blurring the sound by excessive use of the sustain pedal.
This may not be the easiest piece to start a concert—but Yulianna Avdeeva succeeded in pulling the audience into the impressionist atmosphere right away!
II. “La soirée dans Grenade“
Different in atmosphere and character, this time with the Habanera rhythm as base almost throughout, yet with similar rhythmic complexity, also with a similar span in pitch and dynamics. Some of the piece is written on three systems, and the artist’s jumping left hand made the listener feel that there are three hands playing.
The score specifies frequent rubato and ritenuto. Despite that rhythmic freedom, Yulianna Avdeeva managed never to lose feeling for the underlying, calm, gently swaying Habanera rhythm, from beginning to end. This persisted even in the agitated section marked “Très rhythmé“, where the volume grows to ff, and through the two sparkling Léger et lointain (light and far away) inserts, where the meter switches from 2/4 to 3/4. As already in the first movement, Yulianna was “in” the right atmosphere immediately, maintained it through the piece, up to the subtle, gracile tones of the ending, where the music seemed to disappear into the distance.
III. “Jardins sous la pluie“
“Gardens in the rain”? initially, that’s a real torrent hailing down in the continuous, busy semiquaver figures! In Yulianna’s hands, this reminded of some late-romantic toccatas, with the bass notes marking a scarce melody. Then, when a children’s melody appears in the descant, the character gradually changes to playful, the last wind gusts disappear, the rain seems to change into light summer drizzle. The weather roughens up again, a veritable storm emerges, with strong winds, lightning flashes, and the piece ends in a brilliant flash.
I found Yulianna’s performance to be highly virtuosic, technically absolutely masterful, in articulation & touch, rhythmic firmness (with the amount of flexibility that the score asks for), as well as in the artist’s superb dynamic control.
Chopin: Ballade No.3 in A♭ major, op.47, CT 4 (1841)
I don’t need to introduce the music by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1829)—his piano oeuvre is substantial, but well-know throughout. the Ballade No.3 in A♭ major, op.47, CT 4 is a composition from 1841.
Perfect balance in emotionality, expression! And here it is again: Yulianna’s perfect sense for rubato, agogics and dynamics—nothing sounds artificial or enforced, the occasional virtuosic outbreaks, the dynamic eruptions naturally grow out of the music, as does the flow of emotions. Music that holds the user in tight grip, from the first to the last bar!
Chopin: 3 Mazurki, op.59 (1845)
Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1829) started writing Mazurki in 1825—and he kept adding to the genre up to the year of his death, publishing 45 Mazurki during his lifetime. 13 additional Mazurki were published after the composer’s death, and there are more that so fare remain unpublished. It is the composer’s most personal genre—music that is based on (or derived from) traditional Polish folk music / dances. In her recital, Yulianna Avdeeva selected the 3 Mazurki, op.59 from 1845:
- No.36 in A minor, op.59/1, CT 86
- No.37 in A♭ major, op.59/2, CT 87
- No.38 in F♯ minor, op.59/3, CT 88
Mazurka No.36 in A minor, op.59/1, CT 86
An instant switch to different, very slightly melancholic, pensive, thoughtful atmosphere, hesitant (so typical of the Mazurki)! It felt as if in Yulianna’s hands, the agogics in the two hands (if not the individual voices) were (almost) independent of each other. Equally masterful: the artist’s control in dynamics and touch, down to the most subtle ppp and below!
Mazurka No.37 in A♭ major, op.59/2, CT 87
Melancholic notes also here—though embedded into strong, emerging feelings of warmth, of love: very emotional music, burning of joy and love—with a few melancholic, pensive flashbacks. Why is there never any doubt that this interpretation is simply “right”? Maybe it’s because Yulianna’s playing is not about herself, or about her performance, but about the music & the composer?!
Mazurka No.38 in F♯ minor, op.59/3, CT 88
The third of the Mazurki in op.59 followed attacca: impulsive (but still well-controlled) in rhythm and agogics, moving between dynamic, energetic playing, full of momentum and emotion, and the most subtle dynamics in melodic segments, without ever making the music sound sweetish.
Chopin: Prélude No.25 in C♯ minor, op.45, B.141, CT 190 (1841)
Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1829) has composed a main set of 24 Préludes, op.28. This is well-known and has been in Yulianna Avdeeva’s repertoire for years. She has performed the op.28 in concert, and also recorded it on CD. On top of that, Chopin composed one additional piece in this genre, the Prélude No.25 in C♯ minor, op.45, B.141, CT 190 from 1841. This is Chopin’s last official contribution to this genre.
Two more pieces are sometimes listed as additional Préludes: No.26 in A♭ major, composed as a gift and published only in 1918, plus one more that the composer left incomplete, may even have discarded, the “No.27” in E♭ minor, a.k.a. “Devil’s Trill”.
And another instant switch to a new atmosphere / mood! It’s a very expressive, intense discourse between ascending broken chords and a harmonized tune (chord sequence) in the right hand. It’s hard to comment on the performance, other than stating that everything… simply felt “right”: the legato, the phrasing, the dynamics up to the most subtle highlighting of peak notes in p and pp segments.
Chopin: Scherzo No.3 in C♯ minor, op.39, CT 199 (1839)
The performance of the last piece by Chopin in this recital, the Scherzo No.3 in C♯ minor, op.39, CT 199 from 1839, was a déjà-vu of sorts: I heard Yulianna perform this in my very first encounter with this artist, back in 2008, in a private recital. I don’t remember details of that performance (other than that I was impressed already back then). However, in the two years up to the International Chopin Competition 2010, Yulianna’s Chopin interpretations have undergone substantial changes, and in the years since then (almost a decade already), her interpretations have further matured.
Yulianna isn’t just a specialist for subtleties! In the virtuosic challenges of the C♯ minor Scherzo, she can build up really impressive sonority! In the introduction, she consciously keeps the volume, the crescendo under control, unleashing the full power only with the ff / Risoluto in bar 25. And even in these virtuosic segments, her articulation retains clarity, never feels overblown—and she keeps building up volume, drama and intensity, though the blazing octave cascades, culminating in flashing signals, like lightning strokes. And then: these subtle cascades of glittering stars in the middle part! Clarity and expression, balance / control, emotion and drama—all in an ideal mix! In sum: if that wasn’t an enthralling performance, what else is?
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
1874, the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839 – 1881) composed his piano cycle “Pictures at an Exhibition“. This describes a visit to an exhibition of paintings by Victor Hartmann (1834 – 1873). A recurring Promenade indicates the strolling from one (set of) picture(s) to the next:
- No.1 Gnomus — The Gnome
- No.2 Il vecchio castello — The Old Castle
- No.3 Tuileries — Children’s Quarrel after Games
- No.4 Bydlo — Cattle
- No.5 Ballet of Unhatched Chicks
- No.6 ‘Samuel’ Goldenberg and ‘Schmuÿle’
- No.7 Limoges, le marché (La grande nouvelle) — Limoges, The Market (The Great News)
- No.8 Catacombae (Sepulcrum romanum) & Con mortuis in lingua mortua — Catacombs (Roman Tomb) & With the Dead in Dead Language
- No.9 Избушка на курьих ножках (Баба-Яга) — The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba Yaga)
- No.10 Богатырские ворота (В стольном городе во Киеве) — The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)
I have given more detailed explanations in an earlier posting from a recital in Lucerne, on 2018-11-23.
Promenade — Gnomus — Promenade —
One principal element in Yulianna Avdeeva’s performance here was in her clarity, the dynamic control: she avoided excesses (a very controlled build-up in the first Promenade!), never made the music sound overblown. The first Promenade has the annotation Allegro giusto, nel modo russico, senza allegrezza, ma poco sostenuto: the “right” Allegro, in “Russian” mode, without joyfulness, rather a little retained. One can assume that Yulianna knows what modo russico means!
Right from the beginning, but especially in Gnomus I had the distinct notion that she was presenting her very personal interpretation—but without resorting to exoticism. The second Promenade was all subtle, even delicate, yet simple, down to pp.
Il vecchio castello — Promenade — Tuileries — Bydlo — Promenade —
The old Castle: sad, painful memories about events in the distant past—no drama, rather very atmospheric, with excellent dynamic control & balance between fingers / voices, and subtle arpeggiando playing helped the transparency, the clarity.
Excellent, clear articulation in the Tuileries, where again the occasional, subtle arpeggiando in the left hand increased the clarity. Descriptive playing, not trying to excel as keyboard virtuoso! Same in Bydlo: no keyboard thundering, just consciously heavy—pesante, as the score states never rushed even for a moment or motif, rather broadening the semiquaver motifs a tad.
Could it be that the transition from Bydlo to the next Promenade was a little less conclusive than others? It felt like a fresh start, in a way. Maybe that’s in Mussorgsky’s composition? Hard to tell—it could also be that the duration of the pause was a tad long—or rather: short?
Ballet of Unhatched Chicks — Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle — Promenade —
Excellent, this erratic “running around” (rather: erratic movements) of the “unhatched chicks“! One of the highlights to me was in the extremely subtle dynamic control in the left hand in the Trio segment—all ppp!
And equally outstanding: the showy Samuel Goldenberg (one can easily picture a heavy, snooty figure!), and in contrast, a hilarious picture of Schmuÿle, a chatty, nervous, small man, pestering the tall one like a relentless wasp: here, the description was more important than pianistic perfection—rightly so!
Limoges, le marché — Catacombae / Con mortuis in lingua mortua — Baba Yaga — The Bogatyr Gates
The market in Limoges: a true fun piece, the nervous chit-chat in a lively lot of people in a crowded market! The Catacombs followed as a dark surprise. But it was as if after a moment, when the eyes adapted to the darkness, the scares of death weakened, and the music seemed to tell stories of a distant, grandiose past. In Con mortuis…, the spooky atmosphere gradually turned into reconciliation, consolation, the feeling of disappearance, melancholy, too…
Baba Yaga: pianistic excellence, powerful—then again subtle playing in the Andante mosso, a dramatic, powerful third part—and suddenly, we were in the final piece, the Bogatyr Gates! Even here, Yulianna Avdeeva avoided excessive thundering, kept the volume differentiated up to the end (the score states sempre maestoso, but isn’t ff throughout, rather returns to mf for the final build-up)—the music itself was grandiose enough and never fails to impress the listener!
I was very impressed with Yulianna’s performance—brilliant! Occasional, small details, such as rare instances of softest notes not responding, and perhaps also the one transition that wasn’t quite as convincing as the rest, made me realize that this was a new addition to Yulianna Avdeeva’s repertoire, which may still have a little potential to grow?
I should note: the fact that she “corrected / rectified” the excesses that I experienced last November with another artist in this composition may have helped my impression of her playing (though I’d rather forget about that previous performance!).
Encore — Tchaikovsky: 18 Morceaux, op.72 – No.5, “Méditation“
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) completed his 18 Morceaux, op.72 in 1893. These Morceaux (pieces) are Tchaikovsky’s last music for piano solo, and the last piano music that was published during the composer’s lifetime.
Yulianna’s selection of encore was a surprise in that I had never heard her perform the Méditation—on the other hand, that music—definitely not just meditative, but also highly expressive and virtuosic in the central part—is very popular among Russian pianists. I have heard this performed several times in concert, as encore or as part of the program. I liked it every time, found it highly emotional, and having a certain potential to turn into an ear worm. Some pianists almost drive this piece into dynamic (and emotional) excesses.
In Yulianna Avdeeva’s performance, her highly differentiated dynamics and transparency that she used to highlight “inner” and secondary voices caught my attention. Also her excellent agogics, which seemed independent between the two hands, the singing, the most tender, filigree lines in the soft parts, but also the grand, emotional gestures at the climax—all was heart-warming, touching, moving: no, not an ear worm at all—rather one of the all-time highlights of Russian music for piano solo. Thanks for this concert, in all its parts, but also for this wonderful ending!