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The Sacred and the Pro-Music

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
12/27/2023 -  
Charles Gounod: Méditation sur le Premier Prélude de piano de J. S. Bach
Franz Liszt: Deux Légendes
Hildegarde von Bingen: O choruscans lux stellarum (Arranged by Gail Smith)
Georges Gurdjieff/ Thomas de Hartmann: The Initiation of the Priestess
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C‑sharp Minor, “Moonlight”, Op. 27, No. 2
Fanny Mendelssohn: Four Songs for Piano, Op. 8: 1. Allegro moderato
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky/Mikhail Pletnev: Concert Suite from the Ballet “The Nutcracker”: 7. Andante maestoso
Frédéric Chopin Nocturne in E‑flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 – Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23
Maurice Ravel: Miroirs: 3.  “Une barque sur l’océan”
Claude Debussy: Suite bergamasque: 3. “Clair de lune”
Byron Duckwall: My Favorite Things Waltz Fantasia

Katya Grineva (Pianist)

H. von Bingen receiving vision/K. Grineva

The musicians may make small errors on the strings, but in the congregation, that great Musician, the Holy Spirit, cannot err.
St. Ambrose

When I open my eyes I must sigh, for what I see is contrary to my religion, and I must despise the world which does not know that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.
Ludwig van Beethoven

While one must look askance at a piano recital encompassing twelve different pieces–and obviously a dozen different emotional reactions–the Russian-American pianist Katya Grineva had a motive for her choices. The title was “Music That Celebrates the Eternal Mysteries.” Eternal in this case was a mere two hours, but her audience gave her intense bravos and applause after each work, so Ms. Grineva seemed to exhilarate her congregation...er, her audience.

I plead ignorance of Ms. Grineva’s history, though she has made several disks, performed with a goodly group of international ensembles and is an honored graduate from Mannes college.

Add to that an aura of eternal mystery. Her dazzling white dress would have made Raphael’s seraphim jealous. And unlike Daniil Trifonov here two weeks ago–who galloped on stage, barely looked at the audience, and made the heavens resound–Ms. Grineva resembled a diva ballet dancer. After each piece, she paused, smiled stood up, put her hands to her heart and gave a l‑o‑n‑g low bow.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, since Ms. Grineva was at times a splendid artist. Her choices were questionable. For one thing, nobody should dare to make a piano arrangement of the 10th Century poet-composer-nun St. Hildegarde. The poetry is too beautiful, the sheer vocal lines too exquisite for piano harmonies. One may as well arrange Wagner’s Liebestod for a half‑dozen accordions.

Add to this the influential theosophist George Gurdjieff, who, like Nietzsche, who was also a composer. The Initiation of a Priestess was suitably modally liturgical, but it resembled that rare Satie work for Rosicrucians Trois Sonneries de la Rose+Croix. Both were faux‑sacred. Both gave a superficial aura of mystery.

Of the better known works, Ms. Grineva played Chopin’s E‑flat Nocturne with suitable elegance, Debussy’s “Clair de lune” with a simple grace, and Beethoven’s “Moonlight” finale well.

If she dawdled over the opening, giving an excess of languor, this is Ms. Grineva’s trademark. She is a romantic through and through, so even her one Ravel work, played with technical brilliance, was unvarying, without the semblance of pictures or waves.

Three mighty praises for a trio of choices. Two were the Liszt “St. Francis” pieces, played with grandeur, joy sweeping arpeggios. (And mea culpa: until tonight, I’d thought it was St. Francis of Assisi, especially with those twittering avians. This St. Francis came from Padua.)

The final hosanna was a work hardly of eternal mysteries, but packed to the brim with dance and color and delight. Mikhail Pletnev arranged the Nutcracker “Grand Pas de Deux” for piano, with an accent on the grand.

Ms. Grineva made it her own. Ignoring anything approaching ultra-romantic, she gave a performance more overwhelming than all her attempts at musical mysticism.

Harry Rolnick



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