Memorable Chopin and Prokofiev in Yuliana Avdeeva’s Wigmore Hall Debut

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Chopin, Prokofiev: Yuliana Avdeeva (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 15.9.2016. (CC)

Bach – English Suite No. 2 in A minor, BWV807

Chopin – Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38; Mazurkas, op. 7 Nos. 1-4; Polonaise in A flat, Op. 53

Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat, Op. 84

Winner of the 2010 Chopin Competition (the third prize went to one Daniil Trifonov), Yuliana Avdeeva previously impressed in a Brahms First Concerto with the London Philharmonic under Jurowski in January 2014 (review). But a solo recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2010 in the repertoire that brought her fame indicated a more surface approach (review). Here was an opportunity to see and hear her in solo recital, and to revisit her in Chopin. But, to be honest, it was the Prokofiev Eighth Sonata that was the real pull here, an enigmatic, dark work that yields huge rewards under the right circumstances.

Let’s not jump the gun, though. The Bach English Suite that began the evening found Avdeeva settling in. The sound of the active, contrapuntal Prelude was loud even at the very back; no doubting the strength of her fingers in the evenness of delivery here. The surface was more variegated than one sometimes hears; and this sensitivity was generally borne out by the limpid Allemande that followed. Only a slightly lumpy and overemphasised upward left-hand arpeggiation contradicted this; even in the Sarabande, accents interrupted the melodic line needlessly. While Bourée I was not quite sparkling, the second Bourée was beautifully done. It was a shame that the Gigue sounded a little careful. Overall, this performance was a rather mixed experience.

We heard a beautifully chosen set of Chopin pieces. Immediately, the Second Ballade took us to a new world, not only in terms of composition but in terms of Avdeeva’s interpretative skills. The voice-leading was impeccably managed, to the extent that perhaps a little more fire would have been welcome in the contrasting outbursts. No technical problems here at all, though. The four Mazurkas were little worlds in themselves, from the sparkly Op. 7/1 through the pathos of the A minor (No. 2) to a real appreciation of the progressive writing in Op. 7/3 (F minor). Ending the group with No. 4 (A flat) invited applause before the Op. 53 Polonaise. Neither entirely confident nor accurate initially, the interpretation of the Polonaise did grow into a strong statement, the famous left-hand octaves dry and muscular.

The Prokofiev Eighth Sonata is a remarkable piece, the third of the so-called ‘War Sonatas’. The first movement is an extended statement, leisurely unfolding into the most disturbing of regions. The fact that Avdeeva waited to start and let us, the audience, really feel the silence boded well; this implied that a serious, considered interpretation was to follow, and so it was. There was no doubt that Avdeeva understood the complex structure of this near quarter-hour first movement, with its climaxes that were so expertly delineated. She maintained the enigma of the central minuet (Andante sognando) while keeping the momentum moving; the finale showed Avdeeva’s cleanliness of articulation, her carefully selected tempo avoiding any semblance of rushing. Here, there was a sort of Russo-Lisztian diablerie that was most intriguing, a sort of distorted nightmarish quality that found Avdeeva absolutely on a par with Prokofiev’s writing, both technically and emotionally. Avdeeva has recorded the Seventh Sonata on the Mirare label (MIR252, as part of a twofer released 2014), a recording which on the present evidence I would very much like to hear. The Eighth Sonata was by a long way the highlight of the recital.

There was just one encore, Tchaikovsky’s “Meditation”, No. 5 from the 18 Morceaux, Op. 72. Again this was an expertly chosen repertoire choice, beautifully done and notable for its expertly spread chords and its passion (I have mentioned on several occasions on this site the need for more exposure for Tchaikovsky’s solo pieces).

This was Avdeeva’s Wigmore debut, and perhaps that accounted for the unsettled opening. The second part of the recital confirmed that a return invitation should most certainly be issued, however.

Colin Clarke

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