24 Preludes, Op.34
Sonate Phonomorphique No.1
Thème original et variations, Op.19/6
Katya Apekisheva (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 15 September, 2010
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This attractive programme brought a large and enthusiastic audience to Wigmore Hall; some noise-mongers too, coughers, droppers and unwrappers. Such interruptions seemed to throw Katya Apekisheva enough to drop a very obvious clanger in her first encore, ‘Clair de lune’ from Debussy’s Suite bergamasque, which was otherwise magically soft and evocative. Quiet and moderately paced music brought sensitive playing from her, gratifyingly prevalent throughout the recital; unfortunately so too was a tendency to play too loudly, with accents aggressively struck, which blighted somewhat her otherwise-notable artistry.
The order of the chosen works was questionable, too, for Ravel’s Sonatine was overshadowed by the length (35 minutes) and diversity of Shostakovich’s Preludes. Similarly, the slightness of Tchaikovsky’s Variations (however enjoyable) simply couldn’t follow the greatness of Debussy’s Estampes. Lacking the personality of the other chosen composers was Richard Dubugnon’s Sonate Phonomorphique No.1 (2004) – the latter the composer’s invented word, from the Greek, “soundform” – that at least had brevity (9 minutes) on its side. Brusque and glittery, the piano’s bass pounded in a manner already copyrighted by Ginastera, this conceptual and uninvolving piece seems more interested in processes than character-building.
Apekisheva attacked it with possession and commitment, but not persuasively (the music is resolutely abstract). She did however unveil the pithy Preludes of Shostakovich to compelling effect, be they languid, simple, droll, funereal, parodistic, whimsical, Chopinesque, wickedly humorous, or suggesting a silent-film accompaniment (an occupation Shostakovich knew about from the inside). Apekisheva’s success was opening-out each of the Preludes’ worlds and making a genuine cycle of them (if not as unified as Chopin’s similar traversal of key-signatures) rather than playing twenty-four miniatures. (No.15, in D flat, has a separate life as the signature-tune to BBC Television’s sit-com “Ever Decreasing Circles” – with Richard Briers, Penelope Wilton and Peter Egan.)
If Ravel’s Sonatine was masked a little after what emerged as quite a substantial listen from Shostakovich, Apekisheva’s playing of it enjoyed a warmer sound, technical suppleness, and an expressive and fluid approach that was particularly eloquent in the slow movement, the finale tempestuous in character and poised in execution. Similarly ‘Pagodes’ (the first section of Estampes) was carefully charted but Apekisheva was too unguarded in attaining the climax; put simply, she was too loud. Her concern for rhythm was exemplary in ‘La soirée dans Grenade’, so too her sense of the fantastical in ‘Jardins sous la pluie’ to complete Debussy’s inimitable set.
If the Tchaikovsky was an insubstantial pay-off to the advertised programme, this titbit also reiterated some weaknesses in Apekisheva’s armoury. Beguiling and tender she can be, lingering, gentle, elastic, all lovely qualities, but undone to a degree by fortissimos that hurt, assaults on accents that punish, and an inflexibility that estranges; and this particular cut of Tchaikovsky (not without glimpses of Schumann) needs continued care and attention even when the gestures become grander and virtuosic. As a second encore, Apekisheva offered one of Rachmaninov’s Étude-tableaux, here pungent and slithering.