Thursday, October 6, 2011

Valentina Lisitsa

I have just discovered a new pianist, courtesy of Norman Lebrecht in this post. She is apparently the most-viewed pianist on YouTube, even beating out Lang Lang. Well, I can see why. Have a listen to this:

What's great about it? She has loads of technique, but it isn't that. All sorts of pianists have technique. She also has great control over dynamics, phrasing and rhythm. This last is one of the things that really makes a piece work. You have to start with incisive, crisp rhythmic control. But then you have to transcend that! As a great Baroque specialist once said, all notes are created equal, but played unequally--or something like that! What that means is that every note has a purpose and if you understand that purpose, you understand how to play each note. Just listen to the first phrase of the Rachmaninoff above. The tight, tossed-off rhythms of those accompaniment figures set up everything that follows. And listen to how she holds back the tempo at the end of the phrase. So many musicians play phrases without a clear sense of where they are going, in a kind of happy fog. No fog here! This is alert, intelligent, purposeful musicianship. With that in mind, you can bet she is going to play Beethoven well.

Yep. Listen to how the notes are dynamically handled. Not only the beautifully controlled dynamic over the whole first movement, but from each note to the next in the melody, reflecting the harmonic tension. And listen to the minuet: clear, articulated and not too fast! We are inundated with pianists that play everything slightly too fast, that blur details and that mime orgasmic expressions the whole time. Audiences have been falling for this. But once you hear the real thing, a true musician who brings the music to life without making herself the center of attention...well, once you hear that you realize what you have been missing.

Thanks Norman, I'll be following the career of Valentina Lisitsa from now on!

1 comment:

Bryan Townsend said...

My commentor RG asked me to post his reaction:

"Her bare shoulder peeping out of the first image suggested one of those tiresome musical bimbos you discuss. So I put listening till now.

I was surprised even disconcerted by my reaction.

As a woman, she seems an ungainly awkward kind of person. Wearing a dress she got 10 or 15 pounds ago. And no delicacy or flowing graces. Almost ignoring the audience. Flops down on the stool.

But as a piano player, she seems a monster, a terror, a Nietzschean cyclops! She approached the instrument like a starving man to a plate of raspberries. As she sat, plunked herself, down and began, immediately and without mincing, it was clear that she knew the instrument and the piece and her performance in advance and intimately, as thoroughly as though she were just finishing it.
Absolute ability!

I instantly loved her, as a fellow, a sister, a dear dear "serious person". Tears pushed at my eyes, without moistening or spilling, a tightening in the throat, and my thoughts could not keep up with my own perceptions of flashing movements of hands, of starting musical structures.

I tried to focus on listening to the music, the performance that you had praised, and decided that it was (within my limited ability to judge) not really amazing, mind-boggling (nor did you claim that) but pretty much what one would want, well performed.

But the soul, the being, the implicit history of the woman who was producing it with effortless, ham-fisted perfection, that was astonishing!

I was moved. Not by the art, cretin that I am. But by majesty of human possibility. By the piano player.

Even now, having written this note while listening to the second piece, I remain knocked out of my groove. Changed."