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Ukraining on My Piano

We welcome George A. Pieler as our newest regular contributor to Ionarts, after many reviews he has offered as guest contributor. George will continue to lend his ears to our efforts to cover the classical music scene in Washington.

Was it worth slogging through the biggest, windiest D.C. downpour of the year to hear a 'Top 40' program from a Ukrainian pianist at the Polish Embassy? Well, yes, on balance: but I'll reserve final judgment when (if) my galoshes finally dry out.

Vitaly Samoshko, pianistVitaly Samoshko, the Ukrainian-in-Poland, is a big fellow with a big sound. That sound wasn't ideally suited to all the composers on his program, but it was about perfect for one: Sergei Rachmaninoff. Five selections from the Etudes-Tableaux, op. 33 and 39, led the second half of the program and really showed Samoshko at his best -- strong, bold playing that articulated all the notes the composer at times over-supplied, attention to 'inner voices' (not so 'inner' with Rachmaninoff but easily lost in lesser hands). The highlight was easily op. 39, no. 5, in E-flat, with one of those near-pop tune melodies the composer could toss off, but framed with rhythmic and harmonic complexities that banished any thoughts of condescension.

The climax of the program, Prokofiev's wartime Sonata No. 7, was nearly as good, ending with a smashing Precipitato, the middle Andante caloroso unfolding firmly and simply. Samoshko took a bit to hit his stride in the first movement but was very satisfying overall. Not a challenge to Pollini or to Lubimov's radiant account though.

With an all-Russian program this would have been great. But the first half presented Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and Debussy's Suite Bergamasque, played accurately and firmly, with the same weight Samoshkov gave Rachmaninoff. That, plus some pulling-about of Beethoven's music for supposed dramatic effect, was disappointing, as was the lack of real dynamic contrast (mostly mezzo-forte). The Clair de Lune was an exception, nicely phrased with genuine soft playing and only a bit too romanticized.

The audience burst into post-Prokofiev enthusiasm and was rewarded with Scriabin's D-sharp minor Etude, finely dramatic -- Samoshko has recorded the Etudes for the Belgian Lavial label and says he will record a selection of the Etudes-Tableaux soon. Equal enthusiasm for the post-concert buffet (especially the peppered pork), no stereotypical sausages please, which sent everyone out still damp but well nourished.

The final concerts of this season's Embassy Series include a program of Austrian and American operetta at the Austrian Embassy this Friday and Saturday (May 19 and 20, 8 pm) and violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv and pianist Roman Rabinovich at the Embassy of Ukraine next Friday and Saturday (May 26 and 27, 8 pm).


Mark Barry said...

Welcome George, I already respect you for your choice of title. Did you get the health care and 401?

D.J. Bulls said...

As a conductor/musician in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Area, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy reading this wonderful blog on a daily basis! well Done and Kudos! Keep up the good work. Let me know if I can help in any area! I am heavily involved in the amateur and collegiate choral scene as well as the professional choral music scene in the Metroplex!

george pieler said...

Mark I get same package as you plus maybe a few Options.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I enjoyed reading your article about Vitaly S. I would like to make one comment though. I own a copy of Vitaly's Scriabin CD and the actual name of the label is "Lineair Art Transfer". I spoke to Vitaly and he confirmed it.

jfl said...

Believe me, dear anonymous, when I tell you that absolutely nobody cares a.) that he ever recorded it, b.) whatever that vanity label is called, c.) that you may or may not know "vitaly". Thanks for reading ionarts, though.

george pieler said...

Anon I will stipulate your correction is probably accurate: on Vitaly's website LAT is listed as Producer and Lavial as distributor, and album art posted there is not clear as to label under which he is marketed. He did tell me tho his CDs are not available in the States tho I assume they could be imported.

Anonymous said...

Quality of Writing decreases constantly on Ionarts. Anyone writes for it, these days? Who is "george pieler" anyway. Pseudonym for "too bored to write well"?