Two excellent Russian pianists prove a mixed bag in Sunday Afternoons opener

By David Fleshler

Maxim Mogilevsky performed in Sunday Afternoons of Music's season-opening event at Gusman Concert Hall.

For those who fought their way past construction, heavy rain and parking lots packed from competing events, the season opening of Sunday Afternoons of Music offered a pair of excellent Russian pianists in some uneven repertoire.

Doreen Marx, executive director of the series, delayed the concert by a half-hour to allow people to arrive, with her husband Byron Krulewitch serving as a one-man makeshift valet parking crew to deal with the absence of parking at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall. Meanwhile, the pianists Valery Kuleshov and Maxim Mogilevsky gamely played a few works for those waiting, including both a two-piano version and a one-piano version of Rachmaninoff’s¬†Romance.

Getting down to business, the program consisted of works divided between piano solo and duo pianos, including a heavy dose of arrangements originally conceived for orchestra or other instruments—some successful, one disastrous. The heart of the recital consisted of two big duo-piano works: Mikhail Pletnev’s arrangement of Prokofiev’s Cinderella Suite and Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2 for two pianos.

The rapport between the two pianists was apparent throughout the Prokofiev. Although the work dragged occasionally without the varied tones of the orchestra to give it color, Prokofiev’s austere melodies and percussive sensibility came off well on the two keyboard instruments. “Cinderella’s Waltz” was a delicately played lyric episode, as Mogilevsky played graceful arpeggios over Kuleshov’s melodies. The “Gallop” was all hard-driving vigor, as the two pianists bounced the melody back and forth. The “Finale” was a frantic rush, played with gusto by the two pianists, broken by an almost drunkenly rollicking melody.

Their solo performances were less successful. Mogilevsky chose the rarely heard Scherzo and March by Liszt, which was the Hungarian composer at his most bombastic. Mogilevsky made the piano thunder and crackle appropriately, although his playing of the fast passages lacked articulation and allowed for some pretty blurry articulation.

Valery Kuleshov

Kuleshov elected to perform a transcription by Florian Noack of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet¬†Overture, and a lamer solo piano adaptation of a famous orchestral work may not exist. Without the warmth of Tchaikovsky’s orchestration, the work sounded at once drab and cheap, turned into a showpiece for the pianist—who in this case whiffed some notes in the feud sections. To compensate for the piano’s limited ability to sustain tones, the arrangement adds a lot of notes around the melodies, turning this glowing Romantic work into something that sounded like it came off a player-piano roll.

The Rachmaninoff work, composed around the time of his Piano Concerto No. 2, resembles its famous cousin in style and technical demands. In the hands of the two Russian pianists, the soaring melodies of the “Introduction” and “Valse” may have seemed to some unusually brisk and businesslike, but it kept the music pulsing forward energetically, giving an alternative to the more common approach of wallowing in lyricism. Their virtuosity was apparent throughout—in the lightly articulated figures of the “Valse” and the rapid-fire double octaves of the concluding “Tarantelle.” Compared to all the arrangements and transcriptions that came before and after this work, it showed how effective, transparent and imaginative two-piano writing could be in the hands of a master composer

As an encore, Mogilevsky gave a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee that zipped along so fast it seemed to be over in less than a minute. Kuleshov performed Liszt’s La Campanella, based on the theme from the last movement of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 2, giving his most virtuosic performance of the evening.

The concert was dedicated to Loretta Dranoff, who died last year, founder of the Murray Dranoff International Two-Piano Competition in Miami.

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Mon Sep 24, 2012
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