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The Delight of Youth

New York
Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall
09/23/2017 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 15 in F Major, K.533/494
Frédéric Chopin/Earl Wild: Larghetto from Piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 21
Nikolai Kapustin: Variations, Opus 41
Alexander Scriabin: Piano Sonata No. 4 in F sharp Major, Opus 30

Aileen Gozali (Pianist)

A. Gozali (© George Ko)

”Thinly veiled in transparent cloud
A star shines softly, far and lonely.
How beautiful! The azure secret
Of its radiance beckons, lulls me ...
Vehement desire, sensual, insane, sweet ...
Now! Joyfully I fly upward toward you,
Freely I take wing.
Mad dance, godlike play ...
I draw near in my longing ...
Drink you in, sea of light, you light of my own self ...”

Poem by Alexander Scriabin for his Fourth Sonata

Were fingers the only criteria for keyboard playing, the young Aileen Gozali would have a sterling career ahead of her. Her fingers were immaculate, her fastest passages were more graceful than breathless, she offered enough color for a Caravaggio, and her whole hour-long concert was quite delightful.

Not that everything was perfect here. Were I elected Dictator of the Universe, Scriabin would be interdicted for pianists under the age of 30. Ms. Gozali did a creditable job with the short but trenchant Fourth Sonata, yet something essential was missing.

Basically, it was the Essence.

Scriabin, as his poem above shows, was not one to simply dazzle an audience. Certainly not the first Andante, which could almost be played like his early Chopin clones. And not the final Fast and flying movement, which in my score also lists Jubilant. Ms. Gozali did play that Andante with a dream-like tenderness, with hands which had conquered all the notes. And the final movement did really dance. There were syncopated moments which almost echoed her previous jazzy piece by a later Russian, Nikolai Kapustin.

Yet Scriabin, even at his most jubilant, should interject something Tantric. Not the splendid playing, but a perfume, an eroticism, a sense that the notes were but symbols for more mystical transfigurations. That dancing finale, under Ms. Gozali’s fingers could have been a balletic inspiration for a Balanchine. It was hardly the “mad dance, godlike play” of the poem.

I have no doubt that as Ms. Gozalli’s career progresses, Scriabin’s study might include that transcendental feeling (excluding the composer’s copious bottles of vodka), a feeling which soars over words...and even music.

Still, before this, Aileen Gozali–like President Obama born in the United States with periods of her youth in Jakarta–gave a splendid recital, starting with another enigmatic work, Mozart’s F Major Sonata K. 533. The piece is rarely played, because it is neither cute and playful, nor funereal. It is...well, a harbinger for a Mozart in the future.

Ms. Gozali, her Juilliard-trained fingers emphasizing all the severe contrapuntal passages, correctly gave it a dry, almost pedagogical reading. The counterpoint is stinging, the two part fugues (in both the outer movements) was crystalline. Yet is was the Andante where Ms. Gozali was at her best. This was Mozart the dissonant composer, the man who was ready to assume maturity, but was all too conscious that he was trying something both new and disconcerting.

I had never heard this played in public, and for good reason. It is not an audience-pleaser, yet Ms. Gozali’s performance was admirable for effort and effect.

Following was another rare work, Earl Wild’s transcription of the Larghetto from Chopin’s Second Concerto. I am an unalloyed admirer of Wild’s transcriptions (and feel he never got his due as a concert pianist), but this was hardly one of his greatest efforts. Combining piano and orchestra for keyboard doesn’t really improve the original (the way his Gershwin transcriptions were terrific “new” workings). Ms. Gozali played it with her sensitivity and grace. But I kinda wish she’d played an ordinary (!) Chopin Scherzo or a movement from a sonata.

(She did rectify this with the encore, a typically ebullient Wilde transcription of Dance of the Four Swans from Swan Lake.)

Her Variations were the second performance this week from Nikolai Kasputin. Rorianne Schrade played the Russian’s more sedate Etude. This, though, was more characteristic. The Variations were totally jazzy, played with the composer’s direction of “bounce” Ms. Gozali could have been improvising Oscar Peterson style, except that the composer wrote down every note.

With her fine technique, Aileen Gozali never missed a note, not a single measure was out of place, and the Variations turned out to be a sheer pleasure.

Harry Rolnick



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