Cincinnati World Piano Competition presents the 2013 Gold Medal winner
Marianna Prjevalskaya, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 23, 2015
A miracle happened on one of the coldest nights in a seemingly endless New York City winter- a stunning debut piano recital by a young competition winner. It was one of the finest piano recitals that I have heard in many years.
Marianna Prjevalskaya won the Gold Medal at the Cincinnati World Piano Competition in 2013, and since then has been scooping up prizes in other competitions at a great rate, while continuing her Doctoral studies at Peabody.
She chose a daunting program that would cause many a more famous, seasoned pianist to quake in their concert shoes. The entire first half consisted of the Debussy Préludes, Deuxième livre, which is heard much less often than the first book, and is much more elusive, not to mention technically challenging. I’ll admit I was skeptical: Would there be sufficient control of the soft dynamic ranges, and the sophisticated pedaling required? I had no cause for concern, from the very first note I knew Ms. Prjevalskaya was in complete command and control of the material. Her Brouillards were as mysterious as her Feuilles mortes were properly mélancolique. Each prelude went from rapture to rapture, there was no downside. The deceptively simple single melodic line that opens Bruyères was heartbreakingly beautiful. The alternating thirds (Les tierces alternées) in the eleventh Prélude , which I regard as the “thirteenth” Debussy Étude, were marvels of clarity and speed.
Absolutely every note, articulation, blend, layer of sonority, had been completely thought through, yet never sounded premeditated, qualities that extended to the rest of the evening’s program. This was a stunning display of mature pianism, and was probably too “good,” too subtle for the audience to fully appreciate.
After intermission, Ms. Prjevalskaya favored the hall with masterworks by Chopin and Rachmaninoff; surely these would be crowd pleasing. The Chopin was his Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49, a large work with a funeral march introduction, three repeated allegro passionate sections in different keys (between the second and third is a hymn-like meditation), and then a coda. Her sensitivity to harmonic color and her natural romantic rubato was glorious. She varied the second passionate material to make it more intimate and delicate, and then varied the third appearance to exult in a triumphant way.
The final work was Rachmaninoff’s massive Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op. 22. The theme is the famous Prelude No. 20 in C minor, unfortunately known to many only by its presence in “Could It Be Magic,” a Barry Manilow song. This work is much less often performed than Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations, and it is easy to see why. The complexities are staggering and the technical demands enormous. The entire work is like an encyclopedia of Rachmaninoff gestures from many of his other works, notably the Piano Concerto No. 2 (in the same key, C minor), and his Preludes and Études-Tableaux. Ms. Prjevalskaya conjured everything from piano sonority to a metaphor for full orchestra without once making a harsh sound or playing an unmusical note. Her ability to clarify the densest textures was absolute. And through all this, one sensed her fierce commitment to each and every note and phrase, all dispatched with a relatively sober demeanor—no grimacing or grandstanding. All her energy went into the notes themselves.
At the end of the Variations, I leapt to my feet (which I rarely do, because I feel standing ovations are overdone), and found to my non-amusement that I was the only one doing so. Not to worry, she will find her audiences, and they will hang on her every note.
I would love to hear that pianism brought to bear on an unorthodox idea: a complete Well-Tempered Clavier of Bach. (Just a suggestion, Marianna!) She favored the audience with one richly deserved encore: Chopin’s Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 1 in C-sharp Minor, which was redolent with dark visions of (perhaps) Venice at night.
[A word to presenters and recitalists: If you are giving a recital in a major New York hall, a 4” x 6” piece of card stock is NOT a sufficient “program.” Also, artists: PLEASE have written program notes (your own), or, if you are not comfortable doing so, hire someone who is. Of course, it is better if you do it yourself—it adds a whole layer to the audience’s understanding of your involvement with the music before you have even played a note.]
The preceding paragraph is only addressing a distressing trend I see in these debut recitals, and is in no way meant to take away from what was one of the major piano recitals of the season. I look forward to much more from Marianna Prjevalskaya.