Sonata No. 23 'appassionata';
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Described by critics as a 'bona fide angel playing' and an 'electrifying pianist', the young Ukrainian-born, North Carolina-based Valentina Lisitsa has been receiving rave reviews ever since her debut in Avery Fisher Hall for the Mostly Mozart Festival. I
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After the drama of Beethoven, the quiet reflections of Kinderszenen are the perfect companion. Over-familiar? Deceptively simple? Another revelation. Valentina’s playing is exquisitely beautiful and tender, especially Child going to sleep. I think only a mother could play it like that. The last piece, The Poet Speaks, is profound and deeply moving. Program your player to stop after this piece; sit quietly for a while. Listen to the other selections on the CD some other time.
Thalberg’s piece is better than I thought it would be; a finger-buster with some animus. Like Champagne, best taken not too often. Liszt’s Totentanz is also a supreme test of a pianist’s playing chops. Valentina has them all for sure.
Keith Davies Jones
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A marvelous album, also including a fine performance of Beethoven's 'Appassionata ' sonata, Schumann's 'Songs of Childhood', and Thalberg's fantastically virtuosic Grand Fantasy on the Motifs of The Barber of Seville.
Her 'Appassionata' is just that, impassioned. As I listened to the alternately tender and galvanic playing in this most familiar of Beethoven's sonatas I became aware that Lisitsa is a complete pianist, a complete artist. She gets deep into the keys for the bold, dramatic or solemn bits and yet has a fairy-light touch in the virtuosic spots. This is as satisfying an Appassionata as I've heard in years. My experience of this sonata goes back to my teens, more than sixty years ago, when I heard Rubinstein's recording (and begged my piano teacher to let me learn the sonata), all the way through Schnabel, Horowitz, Brendel, Serkin, Perahia, Arrau, Craig Sheppard, Louis Lortie and on and on. Lisitsa's performance is clearly the equal of any of those and she brings her own unique dramatic and poetic sense to the process.
Schumann's 'Kinderszenen' is often thought to require only moderately advanced technique, but that is clearly an underestimation of the works' difficulties, both technical and musical. Lisitsa's 'Träumerei' ranks with Horowitz's, and I've simply never heard as stunning a rendition of 'An Important Event' before now.
Thalberg was a virtuoso pianist, a rival of Liszt's, who made his career mostly playing his own rather lightweight virtuoso pieces. Only a few of his works deserve more than an occasional hearing. His 'Grand Fantasy on Motifs from Rossini's "Barber of Seville"', however, is one that deserves to be heard often, partly because of its construction, which is masterly, or because of its mind-blowing technical fireworks, or its loving reconstruction of some of the most familiar (and some startlingly unfamiliar) motifs from Rossini's opera. I've heard the work in at least ten recordings and this one is the best I've ever heard. Lisitsa has the fastest fingers in the West but make no mistake she uses them musically.
I have never been very fond of Liszt's bombastic 'Totentanz', either in its original piano/orchestra version or the piano-alone version, which we hear here. But Lisitsa makes me almost a believer and there are, frankly, some passages that make sense to me for the first time ever. This is an exciting performance. Huzzah!
I'll be looking for more Lisitsa, that's for sure.
These are spectacular performances, and I have to agree with the previous reviewer that her rendition of Liszt's "Totentanz" -- fierce but also bright in turns -- is the highlight of the set. This version for solo piano, a reduction of Liszt's original version for piano and orchestra, is really something else. This audio recording is highly recommended, but also note this actual performance was also recorded on video and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube, as well as on Lisitsa's "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" DVD.
Beethoven's "Appassionada" sonata is delivered in a performance that lives up to its name. Thalberg's Fantasy on The Barber of Seville was a surprise for me -- a great piano showpiece recapitulating themes from Rossini's opera without getting bogged down in the famous bits. Schumann's "Kinderszenen", a relatively simple set of pieces compared to the other material on the album, is delivered with simplicity and tenderness.