Evelina Puzaite

Sonata in D, K576
Moments musicaux, Op.16
Etudes de Concert [Lamento; Le leggierezza; Un sospiro]Rhapsodie espagnole

Evelina Puzaite (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 6 February, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Evelina Puzaite – just in case you have not previously heard of her (you will) – is a Lithuanian-born pianist who graduated from the Guildhall School of Music three years ago. This Wigmore Hall recital was a revelation in relation to when I last heard Puzaite three years ago; and, previously on Classical Source, a reviewer described her as “…a major talent on the threshold of her career”. If this recital is anything to go by, it will be a most distinguished one. It was particularly gratifying to see the Wigmore Hall populated with so many young people: word has evidently already got around.

Opening with a swift and stylish account of Mozart’s D major Sonata, it was immediately apparent that Puzaite is both musician and pianist in equal measure. So many performers despatch Mozart sonatas dutifully before a recital’s main business, but it was clear from the way Puzaite inflected the second subject and the Adagio’s minor key episodes that here is a pianist who relishes the music, one for whom the actual notes are a means to an end. In the demanding Allegretto finale, there was a real sense of joy.

Rachmaninov’s Moments musicaux, written when he was 23, are rather more substantial than the title might imply – the longest lasts a little short of ten minutes – and the set covers a gamut of emotion from the moonlit introspection of the first one to the heroics of the last. Rachmaninov himself later excluded all but the second piece from his recitals. Thankfully for those of us who love this music, Puzaite (like Lugansky at a Wigmore Hall recital in 2001) opted for completeness. In the three slower numbers Puzaite’s restrained and subtle dynamics had a patrician elegance. Frequently one had the extraordinary illusion of the pianist standing almost outside the music, listening acutely and conducting a dialogue with herself. In the virtuoso numbers, however, it was clear that she has all the necessary pianistic resources, positively pouncing on the central section of No.2 and hurling herself at the Presto No.4 (Presto), which contains a passage peculiarly reminiscent to the finale of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Perhaps the introspection of No.3, six foot of Russian gloom (as Rachmaninov himself was once described), could have been allowed to expand even further – but this was thrilling playing of real temperament.

Liszt’s Etudes de Concert and Spanish Rhapsody were remarkably satisfying, but for quite different reasons. The studies were ‘quiet’ Liszt playing much as Wilhelm Kempff used to give us and were notable for their warm, unforced tone quality. They were characterised by Puzaite’s ability to sort out the important from the subsidiary (she has an extremely eloquent left-hand, which is a clear advantage when so much of the melodic interest lies there), and through her capacity to make this music flow naturally. The second étude, La leggierezza (Lightness), a caprice which echoes Chopin’s Etude in F minor (the second of the Opus 25 collection), brought a legerdemain touch of fantasy and a sense of unpredictability which was entirely appropriate.

By contrast, Spanish Rhapsody is like watching someone tightrope-walk the Niagara Falls. It can be delivered as a pianistic assault course. Despite the odd mishap, the wholly delightful thing about Puzaite’s approach was its sense of fun, the initial ‘La Folia’ theme having a wonderful snap to it and the main ‘Jota aragonesa’ positively dancing: in the all-encompassing maelstrom Puzaite found time to enjoy herself.

By way of an encore, Puzaite gave us the Prelude in D minor, a somewhat sombre affair, by her countryman, Čiurlionis.

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