Felix Mendelssohn: Fantasie in F Sharp Minor (Sonate écossaise), Opus 28 – Etudes, opus 104b No. 1 & No. 3 – Caprice in A Minor, Opus 33 No. 1
Franz Schubert: Schwanengesang, D. 957: 4. “Ständchen” – Die Forelle, D. 550 (arr. Liszt)
Franz Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 in D Flat Major – Transcendental Etudes: 4. “Mazeppa”
Claude Debussy: L’Isle joyeuse
Sophia Agranovich (Pianist)
“A smasher of pianos”
Clara Schumann, on Franz Liszt
If piano recitals were judged on digital hypervelocity, Sophia Agranovich would win hands down (so to speak). Keeping mainly to mid‑19th Century works, she started with a Presto Mendelssohn Fantaisie, launched into more virtuosic Mendelssohn, including rarely‑played etudes and a caprice. And continued with more fiery displays.
Almost infinitely, she showed an aggression, her fingers crossing and uncrossing, rolling up and down the keyboard. Where, I wondered was a simple Mendelssohn Song Without Words? We know that the composer was a terrific virtuoso, but he had a lyrical genius on the cusp of Schubert.
Ms. Agranovich never gave him a chance.
The BargeMusic program was supposed to follow with the Schubert Ständchen, a nice interlude between gymnastics. But no! Ms. Agranovich changed the program continuing her muscle drills with a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody, before returning–finally to the Schubert serenade.
My instinct had been to whisper “Whew”. But the pianist changed the sequence not simply to a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody. More ear‑catching exercises.
Yes, her technique is formidable. A student of Ukraine’s finest teachers as well as the great professors in America, she gives the impression of practicing 28 hours a day. (How wrong could this be? Ms. Agranovich is also a price‑winning computer scientist!)
Practice, though, does not make perfect (though her errors were forgivable). With practice should come–should–come breadth. And that, for the most part, was missing.
Her opening Fantasy was played with a cold blooded toughness. The technical demands were formidable, and Ms. Agranovich played without litheness, without lightness.
New to me was this “Scottish” Fantasy. Perhaps some Gaelic songs were written here, but again, one heard that fabulous fingers without a hint of Gaelic wonder.
Ditto for the first Etude, which presented a cantabile song in between the dense arpeggios. Ms. Agranovich preferred to show off the exercise rather than the lyric.
The Caprice was another Presto work, but here, the pianist–perhaps inevitably–smudged the most challenging sections.
Finally, we came to that Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody, equally difficult but played with assuredness. The best players manage to work in a cymbalom replica, but Ms. Agranovich preferred to emphasize the difficult final moments.
The two Liszt transcriptions of Schubert were played with literal correctness rather than the supple joy of both. And the final Debussy Isle of Joy, missing the ballet-like momentum, showed a nominal delight.
For two reasons, the Liszt Mazeppa was almost stunning. First all, Mazeppa himself was a Cossack hero (partly mythical, partly real) and the pianist enjoyed telling his story. Second, the music has an almost Straussian literalness of horse hooves across the Polish-Ukrainian forests.
This was caviar to Ms. Agranovich’s literal forte, essaying the masterful demands and the picture simultaneously.