Tamara Stefanovich – The Art of the Étude

Part 1 – From the past
12 Études, Op.33
Études, Op.42 Nos.2 & 3
Nikolay Roslavets
3 Études: III
Douze Études – VI: Pour les huits doigts; XI: Pour les arpèges composés
Arthur Lourié
Daytime Routine
Grazyna Bacewicz
10 Concert Études, Nos.4, 5 & 8
3 Études, Op.18 – II
4 Études de rythme – I: Ile de feu I

Part 2 – In the present
Milica Djordjević
Role-playing 1: strings attached [Barbican commission; world premiere]
Unsuk Chin
Étude No.6 (Grains)
Yihan Chen
Étude 1 (Evocation)
John Woolrich
Steingrimur Rohloff
Étude (Evening Cool)
George Benjamin
3 Studies – III: Relativity Rag
Hans Abrahamsen
10 Studies – VIII: Rivière d’oubli; III: Arabeske
Vassos Nicolaou
Études – I: Anodos; IV: Chimes; VI: Animadottir; VII: Entrap; VIII: Point de jonction; X: Filter; XV: Tamara

Tamara Stefanovich (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 10 November, 2019
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican, London

Tamara StefanovichPhotograph: Olga RadmanovichTamara Stefanovich is a formidable champion of contemporary music, and she surpassed herself in her survey of The Art of the Étude, three hour-long programmes over an afternoon and early evening, fifty pieces from Scriabin in 1903 to a world premiere by the Serbian composer Milica Djordević. Chopin and Liszt transcended mere improving pedagogy in their sets of Studies, and as the nineteenth century unfolded into the twentieth, so the distillation of technique, expression and form became both broader and more refined. The two Debussy Studies were more to do with technique, the single example by the Russian communist educationalist Arthur Lourié more of a compositional game. Szymanowski was a master of the miniature in his Op.33, while Messiaen’s ‘Fire Island I’ concentrated exclusively on rhythm. A sequence of brief surges of energy with a few moments of repose may sound daunting, especially when yoked to the chromatic complexities of Scriabin or Bacewicz, but that eas to reckon without Stefanovich’s powers of characterisation and attention to detail in pieces, such as the Bartók opus 18 number 2 that are insanely difficult, all that coruscating brilliance crammed into a couple of high-density minutes.

By contrast, Stefanovich’s second programme, called In the present, opened with a meditative appraisal of the mechanics of piano sound in Milica Djordević’s premiere, which depends on the skillfully manipulated, artificial ‘bowing’ of piano strings and other effects from the belly of the beast, that is, the concert grand. Her piece raised aesthetic questions about the basics of sound, and also whether the piano, still a dominating force in its harnessing of natural harmonics, is the best means of atomising sound. Stefanovich was sublimely explicit in Unsuk Chin’s games of extremes, then caught the mystery of Yihan Chen’s strongly visualised impression of rain and bridges, a study in association, and the section ended with a selection of pieces by Vassos Nicolaou that play as much with resonance as with the structure of the human hand. In the third part of this marathon (which I didn’t attend), When two worlds collide, Stefanovich juxtaposed Études by Rachmaninov and Ligeti, the two extremes of twentieth-century piano writing.

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