The internationally acclaimed Ukrainian-American pianist Valentina Lisitsa returned to George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon on Friday, September 30 to give her second recital at Bauman Auditorium this year. She opened her program with five pieces by Rachmaninoff: the Etude Tableaux, Op. 39 No. 6 (“Little Red Riding Hood”) and four preludes. In all of these pieces, Miss Lisitsa demonstrated an astonishing assurance and technical command, together with a gorgeous singing line and exceptional delicacy. She has an unmistakable affinity for Rachmaninoff, and is the ideal interpreter of his music.
This was followed by Beethoven’s Sonata in F minor, Op. 57, the justly famous “Appassionata”. One of Beethoven’s best-known sonatas, the Appassionata is a work of sharply contrasting moods. Full of Sturm und Drang, it also has its light-hearted and noble moments. Throughout the shifting moods, Valentina put every musical idea into proper perspective, and overlooked nothing. She succeeded beautifully in unifying the disparate elements of this work into a coherent and compelling whole.
Following the intermission, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, Miss Lisitsa played no fewer than 16 of the Polish master’s works: three waltzes, six etudes, and seven nocturnes. The “Black Key” etude never sounded more effervescent, while Op. 10 No. 12 sounded more revolutionary than ever. Her renditions of the “Winter Wind” etude and Op. 25 No. 12 were perhaps the best performances of those two pieces I’ve ever heard.
For me, however, the high point of Miss Lisitsa’s Chopin lay in the seven nocturnes. The uniqueness of Chopin’s voice is nowhere more striking than in his nocturnes. From one to the next, as well as within a given nocturne, they are full of changing moods. Op. 27 No. 1 at one point sounded unmistakably like a polonaise, while Op. 9 No. 2 was distinctly waltz-like. Miss Lisitsa’s performance of this nocturne so completely captivated the audience that, at its conclusion, no one wanted to break the spell of the music by applauding. Miss Lisitsa let the final chord fade away into utter silence, but not until she was about to begin the Liszt rhapsody that followed did anyone dare to clap.
The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 with which Miss Lisitsa concluded her program has been sending audiences home in a state of happy excitement for more than a century and a half, and it didn’t fail in its purpose this night. Valentina certainly made that piano thunder! My only hope is that the memory of the Liszt rhapsody didn’t make people forget the Chopin nocturnes.
If you love the piano, and have the chance to hear Valentina Lisitsa, you must not let the opportunity pass you by. Everything she does has been carefully considered; there are no careless passages. In everything she plays, she keeps in mind the big picture. “Her keyboard technique is preposterously complete,” wrote a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. This is certainly true, but what is more important is that Valentina always searches out how to put her technique at the service of the music she plays. It is this quality that makes her such an important and unforgettable artist.