Harrods International Piano Series 2001/2002 – 24 January

Sonata in E flat, Op.81a (Les adieux)
Kreisleriana, Op.16
24 Preludes, Op.28

Valentina Igoshina (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 24 January, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

In her contribution to the programme notes, Valentina Igoshina refers to Schumann leading the listener to “the spheres which are not accessible to a mortal being”. At moments in her Kreisleriana, and most notably in the last part (VIII), to which the quote refers, she did just that. I have never heard the uncanny, free-flowing bass of the eighth number done so well either live or on disc; the irregular counter-melody leaping and quietly growling under the elfin, fairy-tale tune above; the perfect representation of the tension between humanity and mental disorder that existed in Schumann’s mind. It was at such moments that Igoshina confirmed that music is, of all arts and experiences, our best bridge with that “other world” of imagination and spirit.

Valentina Igoshina has real talent. This was a very uneven recital – at times, her playing seemed on autopilot, sustained by routine and a habitually impeccable technique. At other times there were flashes, just flashes, of brilliance that was out of this world, a certainty and strength of will that were reminiscent of Richter, or a Lipatti-like lyricism and insight.

The experience of listening was like watching the pictures in a slide-show coming in and out of focus.When Igoshina relaxed enough to follow the courage of her convictions, her very considerable talent and her Argerich-like passion shone out; when the occasion – and a number of very strange noises off – overawed her, she retreated back into a shell of technical accuracy and caution.

It is a shame that, even at the highest level, something so brute as nervousness may still have a greater influence than the most carefully discriminated nuances of interpretation.The Beethoven was so cool and correct it was almost frozen, as if Ms Igoshina were preoccupied with making a technically faultless start. The slow introduction was warm-toned and serious, with a gravitas that suggested Igoshina sees this work as a substantial piece, but the first movement proper was so careful and reserved the effect of the opening rhetoric was lost. Then, suddenly, when the left-hand quavers arrive and descend in the recapitulation, she produced simply stunning playing – technically pin-sharp yet soulful, the perfect synthesis of technique and musicianship. There were wonderful moments in the other movements, suddenly soaring above the baseline of competence.

Like most Schumann, Kreisleriana is hard to perform successfully. Schumann wears his own fears and vulnerability very near the surface of his music; some passages always need special pleading, to have their flaws disguised. Such patchy expression suited Igoshina’s mentality. There were some quite marvellous moments – the agitated, stormy opening number, played exactly as Igoshina describes it – “impulsive, violent, almost insane,” was a little uncontrolled but perfectly judged at each repetition of the main. Igoshina held interest through the very long second number, an endless melodic stream helped by the beautiful tone she coaxed from the piano. I cannot say that III, with its technical risks, or VI, its recitative-like melodic line so hard to control, came off as well, but the bell-like cascade in VII, the Eichendorff-inspired unearthliness of IV and above all the cat-like playfulness of V were exemplary.

Chopin’s Preludes have in their concrete, fragmentary identity the same perfection of construction and effect as the abstract, theoretical philosophy that inspired Schumann.Again, this did not map precisely onto Igoshina’s strengths and weaknesses – it would be misleading to say she was better in the more dramatic preludes, or less convincing with more lyrical ones. Her enviable technique made the scales of No.3 or the passagework of 16 a delight, and she swallowed the demands of the final one effortlessly. At other times there seemed a lapse of artistic (if not technical) concentration, which made the group from a foursquare 12 to an unimaginative ’Raindrop’ (15) disappointing.

She perfectly caught the melodic lilt in 17, and the fairy lightness of 5, while the perpetual and contrary motion of 23 was immaculate; and she has a Romantic soul – both 7 and 20, which are immensely simple, had unsurpassable rightness. Her encore, Rachmaninov’s G minor Prelude (Op.23/5) had all the fire, intensity and power it needed. I suggest that in ten years or so Igoshina will be widely regarded as one of the world’s best pianists; I feel privileged to have heard her now.

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