Kariné Poghosyan: Powerhouse Pianist Tackles Liszt (and Others)

United StatesUnited States Schubert, Bach, Liszt: Kariné Poghosyan (piano), St. Vartan Chamber Orchestra, St.Vartan Cathedral, New York, 25.9.2103 (SSM)


Schubert: Ave Maria (piano transcription by Liszt)
Bach: Keyboard Concerto in D minor
Liszt: From Book 2 of Années de pèlerinage:
Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia Quasi Sonata


Watching Kariné Poghosyan at the piano, I was reminded of none other than Glenn Gould. As it happens, St. Vartan is located just a few blocks north of the old Columbia 30th Street Studio where he first recorded The Goldberg Variations. The kinetic energy, the singing and humming, even Gould’s gesture of lifting his left hand as if conducting himself were all part of Ms. Poghosyan’s performance. Gould, though, was a thorough anti-romantic. His forays into Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms were not successful; his notorious anti-everything performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto with Bernstein conducting required Bernstein to explain to the audience that the tempi to be played were solely decided by Gould.

From the evidence of her performance here, Ms. Poghosyan is a Romantic. The opening Liszt work, a transcription of Schubert’s Ave Maria, received the most effective reading of the evening: the dynamics were kept under control and she balanced the accompaniment in the right hand with the melody in the left.

Balance was more of a problem in Bach’s Concerto in D minor. The members of the-newly formed St. Vartan Chamber Orchestra were overpowered by Ms. Poghosyan’s fierce attacks on the keyboard. The entrance of the piano in the first movement had me wondering where she would go from there as she played with an intensity normally reserved for the coda. Bach did write music that could match Ms. Poghosyan’s muscularity but that music was meant to be played on the organ. One needs to keep in mind that Bach’s keyboard instruments (except for the delicate clavichord) responded with the same volume regardless of whether the touch was light or heavy.

Ms. Poghosyan was more in her element with Liszt’s Sposalizio, his programmatic impressions of Raphael’s painting of the marriage of Mary and Joseph. The opening pentatonic arabesques clearly foreshadow Debussy and his own arabesques for piano. The clarity of theses waves of notes is critical to the work’s success but, unfortunately, they got muddied by a combination of over-pedaling and reverberation. Some of the reverberation can be blamed on the church’s poor acoustics, but not much can be done about this short of placing dampers to prevent the blurring of the delicate arabesques and the crashing of chords that echoed back on themselves. Although one cannot expect pianists to adjust their performance techniques to satisfy the demands of a venue’s acoustics, there are ways to ameliorate the problem. Considered use of the pedal and a better understanding of the results of the music’s decay in this church might have helped.

The second Liszt tone poem, Après une lecture de Dante, demands a tremendous technique, which Ms. Poghosyan was more than up to. There were times, though, when a little more leggierissimo was called for. At other times, measures with the velocity markings of  stringendo or accelerando were interpreted as if these were dynamic markings such as crescendo. Crescendos themselves often started at high volume so the dynamic rise couldn’t increase enough for its effect to be felt.

Ms. Poghosyan has an impressive technique that when used with more consideration could reveal a great musical talent.

Stan Metzger


Other concerts in the St. Vartan series will take place on November 20, March 26 and May 14.