After thrilling to her brilliant performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, the audience in Seoul was in no mood to let Valentina Lisitsa leave the stage. They called her back for no less than four encores, each of which reveals a different aspect of her artistry. Her first encore was by Franz Liszt, who was himself an admirer of Grieg’s concerto.
“La Campanella” by Franz Liszt
“La Campanella” (“The Little Bell”) is the third of six “Grandes Etudes de Paganini” by Liszt, all of which are based on compositions by the great 19th-century Italian violinist and composer Nicolo Paganini, and all of which are notoriously hard to play. This kind of knuckle-busting difficulty is Valentina Lisitsa’s bread and butter, but as we will see in a moment, she can also play with exquisite sweetness.
“Traumerei” by Robert Schumann
“Traumerei” means “Dreaming”, and this piece is as different as possible from the virtuoso showpieces that Valentina Lisitsa is known for. She plays it beautifully, and it was this performance more than any other that convinced me of her artistry.
Vladimir Horowitz, for whom “Traumerei” was a signature piece, once related the following incident as a gentle reminder to anyone who might think that slow, lyrical music is easy to play. A young virtuoso once came to the famous piano class of Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna, and upon being asked to play, stunned everyone with a phenomenal display of virtuosity. The most difficult music seemed to flow effortlessly from his fingers. He kept this up for quite some time without as much as a drop of perspiration on his brow. When he had finished this astonishing performance, someone wistfully asked that he play a simple piece by Schumann, such as “Traumerei”. Obligingly, the young virtuoso complied, and after four bars he was perspiring profusely!
Prelude in G minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff
The attentive reader may recall that this prelude was featured on this blog in September in a memorable performance by Emil Gilels. It is unmistakably Russian in character, and very majestic.
“Fur Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven
Valentina’s fourth and final encore was Beethoven’s well-known “Fur Elise”. You will hear some surprised laughter as she begins to play, as the audience was undoubtedly expecting one of her trademark virtuoso encores, not a student recital piece. What they got instead was a thoughtful, poignant rendering of this hackneyed Bagatelle, one that demonstrates just how beautiful it can be when played by a true artist.