Kiev’s Lisitsa brings her magic to Rockford

Kiev’s Lisitsa brings her magic to Rockford

By Georgia Pampel, Music Critic

Following a century-old standard and tradition, Mendelssohn Club again gave Rockford a musical evening that opened up avenues of thought and wonder, leaving some of us breathless in awe. It was Friday evening, March 7, at the Rockford Theatre that Pianist Valentina Lisitsa walked over to the keyboard and showed us all what a variety of messages she could draw forth with her artistry.

Her past reviews all use the same language—virtuosity, vigor, lyricism, dynamic control, power, technical mastery—and she brought all those qualities with her, but added an inner thoughtfulness that now enhances the career of this pianist from Kiev, who gave her first solo recital at the age of 6.

Combining ambition and courage with her musical intelligence, she has at times signed on to fill in playing a previously unfamiliar concerto, aware that she had only days to master her part. She says she can learn new music reading it during a plane ride, and that as a child she so hated practicing that she would often set up books on the piano, to read stories while going over her routine musical exercises. But her musical sense prevailed, and she has matured into an artist who clearly has her own language, expression and musical understanding.

Opening the program with J.S.Bach’s Second Partita, she drew out gentle sounds by appearing to caress the piano keys, as the left hand held to its own steady course while the right hand danced around with its embellishments. Later she reaffirmed the percussive character of the instrument as thunderous sounds rang through the hall.

After the Bach, she gave us Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31, not his most familiar, which demonstrated her dynamic control as the music ranged from a subdued whisper to a roar, sometimes in an abrupt jump, other times in a superbly controlled crescendo. Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit opened with the shimmering lights that we expect from musical impressionism, and for many pianists the Bach, Beethoven and Ravel might have been a full program.

However, she saved the most magic for last, taking on all 12 etudes of Chopin’s Opus 25, and succeeding in giving us 12 separate messages while connecting them into a continuous musical line rather than chopping them up into separate takes. Each etude has a separate focus and character, but she made them connect just as an author can carry a novel’s plot through many different scenes.

The audience went wild, while some of us thought that Lisitsa’s hands—and the piano itself—had earned a well-deserved rest. But aren’t we always curious as to what a musician will offer as an encore? To our amazement, she finally took the extra steps back to the keyboard, and played the very familiar first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, certainly a respite after the strenuous Chopin, but with a lightness that recalled the Ravel, she gave a reading that unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes. She followed this with Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” and then Liszt’s Campanile—but then the house lights went up and the stage lights were turned off, and it was time to say good night. Lisitsa has performed several recent summers in Chicago’s Grant Park, and also does duo-piano work with her husband, so I am sure that we shall have the opportunity to experience her artistry again, and I certainly will be watching for her.

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