OSETINSKAYA DISPLAYS FIERY COMMAND IN BEETHOVEN AND LISZT
By Lawrence Budmen
The superb young Russian pianist Polina Osetinskaya displayed astounding virtuosity and sensitive musicality several seasons ago in a program of unusual works by Scriabin and Desyatnikov. This extraordinarily gifted artist returned to Miami in an awesome display of keyboard technique and interpretive agility on August 31, 2005 at the Steinway Concert Hall in Coral Gables, Florida, USA.
Ms. Osetinskaya projected serene authority from the very opening bars of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No.31 in A-flat Major, Opus 110. The opening movement proceeded with unforced inevitability as if the pianist were rewriting the score in a musical stream of consciousness. This was big boned, commanding Beethoven. The demonic power of the Scherzo was dispatched with fierce power and high voltage drama. The peaceful serenity of the slow movement was truly sublime. Ms. Osetinskaya’s ability to play softly was astonishing – particularly in Steinway’s acoustically live venue. Her playing was the essence of beauty and mature artistry. The concluding double fugue was dispatched with crystalline lightness at an incredibly rapid clip. Yet every minute detail and inner voicing was clear and transparent. This was fearless musicianship that was always at the service of the music. Inspired music making!
Brahms’s Four Pieces for Piano, Opus 119 were like musical whipped cream. Alternately dreamy and brilliant, this music can often sound prosaic in mundane performances but Ms. Osetinskaya’s versions were of the most remarkable variety. She brought poetry and that dark tonal sound that defines Brahms’s oeuvre – both orchestral and pianistic. Her shadings of light and shadow seemed to be sculpted in musical granite – so idiomatic and assured was her subtly nuanced phrasing. The bravura finale literally exploded with pyrotechnical wizardry. Ms. Osetinskaya manages that rare combination of keyboard razzle dazzle and deeply felt sensitivity for the score’s poignant subtext.
Franz Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B Minor was played with blazing conviction and steely virtuosity to burn. This is tempest tossed, restless romanticism in full flower – at once angelic and shamelessly flashy. (Leonard Bernstein once suggested that Liszt’s musical soul was a combination of Faust and Mephistopheles.) Ms. Osetinskaya brought passionate inner fire to every bar. At times she attacked the score’s incendiary roulades at break neck speed. In the more poetic sections she was not afraid to linger and elongate a motif. There was nothing episodic in her performance. (Too often pianists play this work in a choppy, incoherent manner.) Every note and phrase was part of a greater design. The entire score seemed to flow on wings of tempestuous song. Ms. Osetinskaya’s technical powers and musical repose were remarkable! A great performance of a landmark of musical romanticism!
In response to an enthusiastic ovation Ms. Osetinskaya essayed a Toccata of J.S. Bach with pristine Baroque style, glowing tonal coloration, and absolute clarity of line. Rachmaninoff’s Moment Musicau was intense bravura playing in the grand Russian tradition. (What a performance Ms. Osetinskaya could give of Rachmaninoff’s grandiose Third Piano Concerto or his technically audacious, elusive Fourth Concerto!) Finally the theme from the film Katia Ismailova (Moscow Nights), a charming vignette by Leonid Desyatnikov was a vivid reminder of Ms. Osetinskaya’s mastery of contemporary Russian musical idioms. Her playing was fluent, agile, and elegantly stylized.
Polina Osetinskaya is terrific pianist. More importantly, she is a magnificently endowed musician. Her performances always explore new facets of even the most familiar scores. Ms. Osetinskaya should be heard in South Florida in the concerto repertoire with orchestra. If any young artist deserves a major international career it is Ms. Osetinskaya. She is a musical treasure!