Avdeeva’s artistry sets a high standard for Chopin Competition finalists

By Lawrence Budmen

Yulianna Avdeeva performed a gala concert Friday night at the 10th National Chopin Competition in Miami. Photo: C. Schneider

As six finalists prepared for the concluding concerto round of the 10th National Chopin Piano Competition, the organization presented a special gala recital by Yulianna Avdeeva, first prize winner of the 2010 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. The event took place Friday night at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, in cooperation with Poland’s Fryderyk Chopin Institute.

The Russian pianist immediately demonstrated why she took the top prize. Avdeeva combines big-boned, rock-solid technique with keen interpretive sensibilities, formidable musical intellect and an intense degree of feeling. When she performs, Avdeeva appears to be living—rather than merely playing—the music.
Beethoven’s Eroica Variations is a twenty-five minute pianistic minefield that many pianists avoid. Written in 1802, the score illustrates Beethoven’s towering genius–transforming a simple theme he had previously utilized in his Contredanses and ballet The Creatures of Prometheus into an epic set of fifteen variations.

Few artists would dare to open a program with this behemoth. Avdeeva did so, with a note-perfect rendition that was both imaginative and replete with personal touches, as each episode revealed subtleties and nuances that often go unnoticed.
Opening at a deliberate pace, Avdeeva’s pearly touch was immediately evident, backed by alternately dreamy and driving rhythmic interplay. Avdeeva assayed the changes of meter with natural, flowing impetus, never allowing Beethoven’s grand structure to become episodic. There was pathos in the minor-key episodes and the return of the principal melody was inflected with charm in the manner of Beethoven’s original contredanse. The individual voices in the big fugal variation were projected with clarity. Avdeeva’s  supple rubato in the final reprise and control of tonal shadings was masterful.
Turning to Chopin for the remainder of her program, she displayed an innate affinity for the phrasing and pulse of the Polish master’s creations. The Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major was given expressive weight and lyricism, Avdeeva turning the percussive piano into a singing instrument. She captured the gravitas of the Prelude in C-sharp minor, enriched with myriad variations of dynamics. As the final soft chord faded, she immediately launched into the Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, played with almost demonic energy and more than a trace of Lisztian showmanship. Even during this take-no- prisoners bravura display, her arpeggiated flurries across the keyboard were deft and light as air.
Three mazurkas from Chopin’s Op. 59 set aptly conveyed Avdeeva’s deft articulation of dance rhythms. The Mazurka No. 1 in A minor was stated with unadorned elegance and No. 2 in A-flat Major seemed almost like an intimate salon piece. Avdeeva’s fleet fingering and tonal shading were impeccable. Saving the best for last, the Mazurka No. 3 in F-sharp minor was presented in bold, incisive strokeswith an almost improvisatory touch. Her sometimes quirky turns of phrase were refreshing, like hearing familiar music for the first time.
Avdeeva’s buildup to the well known melody of the Polonaise in A-flat Major was infused with excitement, the theme inflected with dancelike charm. The unusually quiet and attentive Miami audience stood and deservedly cheered Avdeeva. Many of the pianists and finalists in the competition were in the audience. Hopefully Avdeeva’s artistry set a standard that they can aspire to.
The concert was preceded by a fifteen-minute film about the history of the Warsaw Chopin competition from its founding in 1927 to the present day. Containing brief but fascinating clips of past winners’ performances, the film, to its credit, did not shy away from the competition’s occasional controversies. That includes years in which no first prize was awarded—to the consternation of contestants and audiences alike—as well as the elimination of the brilliant but eccentric pianist Ivo Pogorelich at the 1980 competition, resulting in Martha Argerich’s resignation from the jury.

The final concerto round of the 10th National Chopin Competition will take place 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Miami-Dade County Auditorium and will be livestreamed at chopin.org.

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Sat Feb 29, 2020
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