The first of this week’s public events as part of the Birmingham International Piano Academy brought the Russian pianist Oxana Yablonskaya to the Conservatoire.
A pianist of remarkable technical gifts, her predominantly harsh sound, exacerbated by a bright Yamaha piano and the recalcitrant acoustics of the Conservatoire Recital Hall, did not make for enjoyable listening and I found this a frustrating recital.
It started well with a dextrous group of three Scarlatti sonatas but Beethoven’s Sonata op. 10, no. 3 had much more mixed results. Its opening Presto was a breathless chase of events that left no time for eloquence. In contrast, the Largo e mesto second movement relaxed into a more eloquent melting sound with a tragically desolate coda. The menuetto’s rise out of the Largo’s stricken close was beautifully managed, as was the opening of the finale, with its hesitant first idea, but as soon as the argument picked up we were off again on a headlong dash that denied any opportunity for reflection.
Two Liszt’s song transcriptions illustrated the two poles of her fiery temperament. Auf dem Wasser zu singen turned far too soon into a raging torrent, all lyricism overcome by agitation. Gretchen am Spinnrade was much more successful, balancing the melody on top of the insistent accompaniment to spellbinding effect with truly Lisztian expansiveness and rhetoric.
The all-Chopin second half continued the unpredictability, with the opening Nocturne sounding like a different pianist entirely, with very beautiful tone and long controlled legato lines. But later in the Mazurka op. 50 no. 3 she proved unwilling to savour any of the composer’s harmonic daring, moving relentlessly on to an impatient end.
Her steely fingers were better employed in Schedrin’s Basso Ostinato which formed the encore to an intermittently brilliant evening.