Photograph of Katya Apekisheva
Sonata in E, Op.109
Pictures at an Exhibition
Katya Apekisheva (piano)
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: 11 April, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This recital was unaffected, charming and thoroughly musical. Katya Apekisheva has a powerful technique, and in particular, immensely strong arms. If at times she seemed most herself combining gigantic chords and assured virtuosity, her playing was not short of poetry or affection too.Brahms’s last piano piece, the rhapsody that concludes Op.119, showed all Apekisheva’s abilities at their best. She threw off the fistfuls of chords with ease and élan, and relaxed into the intermezzo-like episodes. Only the weight of sound and roundness of tone would have told the listener this was a piece of any technical difficulty at all, so comfortable was she with it.
Apekisheva’s winning, straightforward style made this a well-chosen programme – pieces of sufficient depth and interest that speak for themselves. Apekisheva was equally at home with the playfulness of the Capriccio (Op.76/2), or the simplicity of the Op.117 Intermezzo that followed, while the Ballade from Op.118 again benefited from her big technique and poetic instinct.
Apekisheva had a grand, heroic view of the late Beethoven sonata; it was a marmoreal interpretation, certain and strong. The opening movement had impressive depth of feeling and gravitas – more committed Gilels than aloof Pollini; at times in the ’Finale’ these qualities became more workmanlike than interesting. It goes without saying that Apekisheva had no trouble with the technical difficulties of the fast middle movement or with the fingerwork in ’variation 3’ of the ’Finale’. There is no doubt that her finger technique was less impressively characterised than her ability to structure chordal music; the martial exactness of the penultimate variation gave a clue to what would be Apekisheva’s strengths in the remainder of the recital.
Pictures was given a classical, unmannered performance, far less wilful and more engaging than Pletnev’s recent account in the Royal Festival Hall. In the vivid characterisation of the unhatched chickens or the Polish ox-cart, and in the final expansive peroration of ’The Great Gate’, Apekisheva conveyed exactly the folk-influenced drama that Mussorgsky must have intended. Her performance was not entirely even – ’Tuileries’ perhaps suffered from sounding too like Ravel’s orchestral transcription (a danger to which Ashkenazy alludes in his notes to the Wiener Urtext edition); the ’Market place at Limoges’ was hectoring more than bustling; and the conversation “with the dead in a dead language” seemed too sweet. Overall this performance was utterly convincing in its sense of authenticity, and held the attention from picture to picture. In the awkward chords of ’The Hut on fowl’s legs’, and the bell effects of ’Gate at Kiev’, Apekisheva’s technique served her excellently. Pianists often find the Wigmore’s piano resistant, but Apekisheva conquered its action effortlessly.
Tchaikovsky’s ’January’ (The Seasons) was an appropriate and charming encore, but the fireworks of the Ginastera dances that followed, though virtuosically impressive, rather detracted from the ’classical’ mood of the evening.
It was a great shame that the – rightly enthusiastic – audience was small: at least fifty short of the number needed to give the occasion some atmosphere. The competing attractions of Marc-Andre Hamelin and the Vienna Philharmonic on the South Bank may have been the reason. If I have a general criticism of Apekisheva, it is that she is still working out how exactly to change gear between the dramatic and lyrical, between those powerful chords and the poetic moments. This was a recital that left the audience warmed, where the pianist perfectly communicated a sympathy with and love of the music.