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CD Review

Yulianna Avdeeva Plays

Yulianna Avdeeva, piano
Mirare MIR252 2CDs 91m
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Moscow-born Yulianna Avdeeva (b. 1985) captured first prize at the 2010 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She was a student of Elena Ivanova, Vladimir Tropp and, at the Zürich University of the Arts, Konstantin Scherbakov. She continued studies with Dmitri Bashkirov and Fou Ts'ong. From a résumé like this, you would expect her to be a pianist of exquisite taste and superior skills. This double-CD set stands as witness to that expectation.

Avdeeva captures the varying moods in Schubert with imaginative phrasing, a wide range of dynamics, and a fine sense for a workable tempo. Her First Klavierstücke is very spirited and driven in the faster sections, deftly conveying the agitation and elation in proper proportion. She imparts a stately character to the alternate theme while maintaining tension and a sense of restlessness. Overall, her account is fully convincing, not least because she can seamlessly change moods to keep up with Schubert's quirky style. Avdeeva effectively conveys the more lyrical and gentler nature of the Second Klavierstücke, but still manages to capture the agitation and menace in the interior sections with surges of dark energy and a good sense for building tension. The final Klavierstücke effervesces in its playfulness and good cheer. Even in the subdued and quieter alternate theme Avdeeva lets in plenty of sunlight and energy. Splendid accounts, all.

Avdeeva's Prokofiev Seventh offers a muscular and fairly energetic first movement, where the development section builds angrily until the music settles restively into a sort of rhythmic tailspin. Her second movement (Andante caloroso) features a fairly briskly paced main theme and an intense and explosive middle section, yielding one of the finest renditions of this movement on recent recordings. Her finale is quite different from most versions you have ever heard: it is very brawny and moves along with a relatively deliberate tempo. Its tread is heavy and its drive seems crushing and determined. Overall, Avdeeva's account of this sonata for once makes you think of the piece as a true "War Sonata." Some may prefer a more fleet finale, but remember, Horowitz played it this way and Prokofiev praised his performance, calling him a "miraculous pianist."

Avdeeva's Chopin begins with an appropriately agitated but quirky account of the C major Prelude and follows with an effectively gloomy and dark rendition of the A minor Lento. Actually, Avdeeva is very convincing in the sadder and forlorn music: try #4 in E minor, or #6 in B minor, where she summons both the sense of depression and agitation with well-judged rubato and dynamics. Yes, she tends to favor slightly more potent sonorities, but the music comes across with impact still, as contrasts stand out when she drops the level to piano and lower. Preludes like #7 in A can often sound stiff and mechanical, but Avdeeva gives the music a perky lift and sense of elasticity. Perky and also effervescent is the F-sharp minor #8, but Avdeeva also effectively captures its hints of unrest. Her E major Ninth Prelude is perhaps a little too muscular, and her G Sharp minor Twelfth and G minor Twenty-Second may be a bit muddy in places, but such minor misfires are rare here.

The relatively lengthy #13 in F-sharp major is beautiful in its serenity, and the very brief ensuing prelude, in E-flat minor, sounds appropriately fearful and threatening. The longest prelude, #15 in D-flat major, gets a splendid performance: the outer sections are lovely in their sense of lyrical flow and gentleness, while the tense middle section rises brilliantly to grandiosity and stateliness. Avdeeva's account of the B minor Sixteenth is breathless and thoroughly exciting, and the following A major Allegretto brims with nervous expectation in its sense of passion and longing. I could cite further examples of her artistry in this set, but let me just mention a couple more: #20 in C minor is solemn in its subtly majestic gloom; and #24 in D minor is a powerfully stormy and deliciously threatening account. The sound on both discs is vivid and well balanced.

There is much formidable competition in these works: in Schubert from Uchida, Brendel and others; in Prokofiev from Glemser, Boris Berman, Richter and others; in Chopin from Argerich, Sokolov, Feltsman and others. I'm not sure that Avdeeva's performances match the best in these respective works, but hers are surely competitive with most. Moreover, in a recital of such mixed fare one can only say she has acquitted herself most admirably. Avdeeva is obviously a talent to watch. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings

Trumpet