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“This girl can play!”

New York
92 Street Y, Buttenwieser Hall
03/01/2017 -  
Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas in B-minor, K. 87, & in D major, K. 96
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 25 in F-sharp major, op. 78
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Nocturne in F major, op. 10 No. 1 – Valse sentimentale, op. 51 No. 6
Franz Liszt: Transcendental Etudes, S.139: No. 1 Preludio, No. 2 in A minor, No. 3 Paysage, No. 4 Mazeppa, No. 5 Feux follets, No.10 in F minor & No. 11 Harmonies du soir

Dinara Klinton (piano)

D. Klinton (© )

As I reported in these columns a few months ago, the great pianist Sir András Schiff finds time among his myriads of concert activities to also work with a younger generation of pianists. In an old fashioned way, he not only coaches them but also nurtures their talents by arranging concerts on both sides of the Atlantic for the chosen few he deems deserving to be exposed to wider audiences. In New York, each season for the last three years, three such concerts have taken place at the venerable and prestigious 92 Street Y and this series is presented as “Sir András Schiff Selects: Young Pianists”. It shouldn’t be understood that the ones Sir András selects are novices without prior accomplishments: all of them are already active, the majority of them have won prestigious prizes at piano competitions, and some already have steady management. But it certainly adds to their laurels to have someone as Sir András put a “seal of approval” next to their names.

The prevailing mode of these recitals is that they are performed without a break, lasting about 75-80 minutes. In the past, most pianists tried lay off typical virtuoso repertory, often concentrating on compositions belonging to the canon which, if staying with the Schnabelian definition, can be classified as “more difficult than one can play them”. Not that Hammerklavier Sonata by Beethoven, the Brahms Handel Variations or any solo composition by Schumann or Chopin or Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 don’t need a virtuoso to perform them.

This recital, by the young Ukrainian-born Dinara Klinton, differed a little from the previous presentations in the sense that this talented virtuoso dared to think “out of the box”, and was not afraid to show her virtuosity in a most daring segment of repertory such as Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. There was also no grand sonata such as the Schubert B-flat: here Ms. Klinton offered instead one of the shortest by Beethoven as if she intended to remain within the short-forms realm. She had already come to my attention several years back, most notably during the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, when there was a significant controversy about her not being chosen as one of the finalists. Subsequently, I was presented with her sensational CD which consists of the twelve Transcendental Etudes by Liszt. It was inspiring to see above her biographical note an enthusiastic endorsement by the aforementioned Sir András, who exclaimed “Dinara Klinton’s performance of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes is astonishing. She is a real virtuoso, a born pianist, a very natural player”. I don’t recall this pianist, who consciously avoids that type of music in his repertory, ever making a similar statement about anyone else playing Liszt. Not that he was wrong: far from it! Or as the popular saying goes: this girl can play the piano! (Sorry, a statement that can be considered politically incorrect and worse yet, misogynist: by all means it should not be read anywhere near any campus of any American university).

In her attractive Scarlatti selection, Ms. Klinton went down the road traveled by such artists as Horowitz or Pletnev, who treat Scarlatti as piano music but who also use a rather minimal amount of pedal, thus retaining a little of the original timbre. The Sonata in B minor is one of the most romantic – if one can use that term – in his śuvre and in my ears harks back to Elizabethan lute compositions. Ms. Klinton played it with just the right amount of affectation. She showed her astonishing ability to execute the fast repeated notes in the D major Sonata, as well as the treacherous jumps of the left hand. I think my comparison with the Master mentioned above seems quite apt.

She proceeded to Beethoven’s Sonata in F sharp, which its composer himself held in high regard. Here, I was impressed by the way the pianist executed the sixteen-notes, keeping in mind that they are still a melodic line. There is sense of contentment and peace in this first movement and our artist kept the music leisurely flowing. That smoothness and continuity is shattered and blown away by the exclamatory, fluttering nature of the Allegro vivace: an example of one of the most thrilling, playful and lighthearted movements in Beethoven’s sonatas. In this, a little rustic scene where the piano is chirping and pecking, I was missing just a tad of that teasing, mischievous character which I think this movement possesses to a higher degree than almost any other. I guess that when one talks about humor in Beethoven’s music, the Allegro vivace from Op. 78 must be mentioned right at the top. And perhaps that’s what I was missing in the otherwise excellent Klinton performance.

After Beethoven, we heard two short selections by Tchaikovsky lovingly played: both are well known but it is always nice to hear how convincingly they can sound when played as tastefully and with sophistication, tenderness and fragility as Ms. Klinton demonstrated in her reading.

Finally, it was time for the Liszt Etudes, which appear in recital programs not as rarely as in the past, but that always intimidate their performers who are confronted with a daunting task of combining “transcendental” technique with musicality or at the very least a lack of vulgarity often associated with Liszt’s music. What that means is that the few slow Etudes, and here Ms. Klinton chose “Paysage” and “Harmonies du soir”, need to sound no less profound than any adagio from any Beethoven or Schubert sonata, and the ones considered finger-breakers no more difficult than an easy Czerny etude. This is, of course, a bit of an exaggeration, but I trust that my reader will get the gist of that possibly unsophisticated comparison. And indeed, Ms. Klinton let her piano sing and caressed phrases in the tranquil “Paysage” and conveyed the climate of “Harmonies du soir” (inspired by a poem by Lamartine) simply and aptly described by Jeffrey Swann: “...where music paints a tranquil scene: a misty glow descends on the countryside and a pensive cadenza concludes softly crystalline harmony”.

What makes Ms. Klinton’s Liszt amazing is the fact that the piano writing in certain of the etudes (such as “Mazeppa”) seem to demand not only large hands but also an ability to produce a large volume of sound, typically (but not necessarily) connected to a large physique, neither of which this petite pianist possesses. Yet, in her effortless way, she was able to conquer all the obstacles without a sense of struggle or excessively forcing the sound. Yes, her sound is perhaps not as massive as Lazar Berman or Garrick Ohlsson could create, but Klinton easily compensates it with her own sense of dynamic range. As far as negotiating furious octave passages or chords, this listener had a feeling that she played only as fast as the score demands and in an impressively unforced manner.

The fiendishly difficult “Feux follets”, a piece that is often out of reach of even some otherwise formidable pianists, seemed child’s play for Ms. Klinton who negotiated those notorious double notes with a lightness and ease that left the listener in awe. A lesser musician would have probably concluded his program with the bang that the penultimate dramatic etude No.10 provides. Our pianist wisely chose the melancholy and contemplation of No. 11, and that decision left this listener no less impressed. As an encore we heard the charming “Humoresque” (Op. 10 No. 2) by Tchaikovsky, that even Stravinsky didn’t mind borrowing for his Divertimento.

One should hope for Ms. Klinton’s swift return to New York, where she should be heard again and by a much larger audience than the 92 Street Y is able to accommodate in its intimate Buttenwieser Hall. And there is no doubt in my mind that thus far it was one of the most auspicious debuts in Sir András’ series. The next and last concert in this series will be on May 3rd, a recital by the wonderful New Yorker Michael Brown, who is already a steady presence on the local concert scene but always worth hearing as a soloist and chamber musician (as the patrons of Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society already know well).

Roman Markowicz



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