Onay ends impressively with Chopin and Ravel at Miami Piano Fest

By Lawrence Budmen

Gulsin Onay

Gulsin Onay

The Miami International Piano Festival Master Series continued on Monday night at the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater with a recital by Gulsin Onay. The Turkish pianist made an impressive debut at the 2008 festival.

Opening with Beethoven’s Sonata in C Sharp minor, Op.27, No.2 (Moonlight) was a mixed blessing. While the sonata is a sure-fire crowd pleaser, it is so often played and appropriated for film and background music that few pianists can bring any fresh insights to this thrice familiar warhorse. Onay made a serious effort but came up short. The familiar Adagio sostenuto was overly deliberate and heavy handed, the moonlight obscured by clouds. She brought a modicum of grace to the second movement and rushed into the Presto agitato finale at a headlong clip, the resulting music-making somewhat affected.

Onay’s rock-solid technique came to the fore in Bartok’s Sketches, Op.9b, an awesome test of digital dexterity via the composer’s signature mix of Hungarian folk tunes and acerbic harmonics. Onay conquered the score’s rapid hand crossings, cluster chords, and fierce outbursts amidst pastoral musings in an impressive, high-powered tour de force.

The pianist’s bold interpretive freedom and sensitive artistry is perfectly attuned to the music of Chopin. Onay brought exquisite lightness of touch and elegant ornamentation to the bel canto pianistic line of the Andante Spianato and attacked the Grand Polonaise with majestic urgency, bringing real affinity to Chopin’s melodic and rhythmic pulse.

The Sonata No. 3 in B minor opened with a strongly accented statement of the first movement’s principal theme, Onay unleashing her considerable power at heaven-storming velocity. Her fleet reading of the Scherzo was light as a feather, leavened with a touch of whimsy. An unusually broad Largo preceded a daringly fast Presto, marked by clipped phrasing of the melodic line, a bracing and unconventional traversal of a familiar score.

Onay offered the enthusiastic audience no less than four encores. She caressed the melodic line of a lovely Chopin nocturne and eschewed the usual pompous exaggeration in Mozart’s Turkish Rondo, offering an unadorned performance that restored the music’s lilting charm. From the first shimmering chords of Undine from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit , Onay’s delicacy maintained the Impressionistic mist. A modernist version of a Bach prelude at taut speed was light years away from the ideology of the early music movement, yet equally valid,  a fine conclusion to an arresting recital by a fascinating artist.

The Miami International Piano Festival Master Series concludes Tuesday 8 P.M. at the Broward Center with a recital by Jorge Luis Prats. 305-935-5115. www.miamipianofest.com.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Onay ends impressively with Chopin and Ravel at Miami Piano Fest”

  1. Posted Mar 09, 2010 at 5:35 pm by mark trop

    I do not think the comments that are negative about her C#m were reasonable. The critic talks about emotional fluff which has nothing to do with the music; The gratification moment came; at the end; watching her at the keyboard was transcendent; and… Clouds bring rain. And so rebirth; and her performance at every moment did. Her hands were like watching Da Vinci paint. (Not like the fat Doctor in Figaro last Thursday. etc) I suppose the reviewer likes Serkin’s moonlight better. But maybe it don’t look taht way in Istanbul? This was one sublime incredible night marred only by this review; which I get to review and that was fun; but not as incredible as this night in this theater.

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Tue Mar 9, 2010
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