By Lawrence Budmen

While French pianist Lisa de la Salle received considerable media attention, the opening night Rachmaninoff gala provided the real keyboard fireworks at the 10th anniversary edition of the Miami International Piano Festival. On May 9 three pianists took the stage of the Lincoln Theater to successively play a superb Steinway grand in music of the Russian master. 

Because of their technical difficulty, Rachmaninoff’s 9 Etude-Tableaux, Op.39 are rarely played. In the impressive hands of Alexander Gavrylyuk, these display pieces were a veritable tour-de-force. Gavrylyuk, who first appeared at the Festival four years ago when he was only nineteen, unfurled sweeping coloration, hyper intense passion, and grandiose pianistic gestures in a performance that astutely served Rachmaninoff’s synthesis of fire and melancholia.

Not to be out played, Ilya Itin brought sensitivity and explosive pyrotechnical brilliance to the introspective patina of Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor. Itin, a Festival stalwart, vividly suggested the brooding intensity of this fiery score. Itin is a pianist in the grand Russian tradition with an instinctive understanding of both the composer’s classical sense of form and unhinged passions. His playing was frequently awesome.

It fell to Misha Dacic to serve up Rachmaninoff’s bon-bons for dessert. The Serbian born Dacic, a pupil of Frank Cooper and Kemal Gekic, has matured enormously as an artist since American debut in 2003. Particularly enchanting was his perfumed filigree in Rachmaninoff’s witty take on Latin rhythms in the Serenade, Op.3, No.5. Earl Wild’s transcription of The Little Island sailed on wings of lyrical grace. Arcadi Volodos’s arrangement of the Polka Italienne was great fun, served up with brio and virtuosity in equal measure by Dacic. Each of the pianists received standing, shouting ovations. 

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