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Vladimir Feltsman in a commanding recital performance at Chicago Symphony Center

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Classical Piano Recital by Vladimir Felstman in Chicago

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The Russian- American Pianist, Vladimir Feltsman, performed an engaging performance of works by Haydn, Schubert and Prokofieff on Sunday, June 1st at Chicago Symphony Center.

Opening up his program with a straight-forward account of Haydn's Sonata in A-flat, Hob. XVI:46, he chose an interpretation that was clean and bright in sound, and the listener had to revel in the clarity of his passagework, which bore to mind the playing of Andras Schiff's all-Bach recitals- as it featured almost complete absence of any pedal. I like his approach, as it was very Haydn-esque, and displayed a keen sense of the classical style and a most varied send of touch. There were only a few things left to be desired in terms of his overall conceptual understanding, as some of the unusual harmonic shifts that Haydn is so well-known for Feltsman played through without much awareness, and these shifts somehow seemed strangely un-prepared. Still, Feltsman's playing was immaculate and tastefully musical, and it help establish a expectant mood from the attentive audience on that Sunday afternoon.

When Feltsman returned to the stage to perform the second piece on his program, I was immediately heart-warmed by his willingness to rub his hands together and display a "shivering" gesture, which made him seem so much more communicative and human to the audience. That he could do this in a large and formal hall such as Symphony Center spoke volumes about the type of person he must be. He let us know he felt a bit cold- and even a bit nervous, perhaps, endearing himself at once to this very appreciative audience. The Schubert Sonata in A minor, D. 537 was also played by Feltsman with the utmost technical mastery and a distinctly different sound and more romantic approach, mostly exemplified in Feltsman's effective use of pedalling and longer phrasing, lovely voicing, and significantly more rubato, tasteful and never excessive. In the first movement, "Allegro ma non troppo", I felt that Feltsman left out some important dramatic effects by virtue of his restrained dynamics, opting for an always beautiful tone and unforced sound, instead of delivering the full impact of true Fortes when indicated in Schubert's score.

The second movement of the Schubert, "Allegretto quasi andantino" was played as this listener has never heard it before- which was refreshing, if not always emotionally satisfying and explorative of the lyrical beauty of this movement. Feltsman opted for a tempo that was so fast that his interpretation was more dance-like than anything else, with a bouncy left hand. As a result, the middle section of this movement, with a beautiful melody in the left hand topped off by florid right hand sixteenth notes came off sounding virtuosic, instead of lyrical, unsentimental and lacking in emotional depth in the d minor section, and yet somehow still beautifully rendered in the hands of this master pianist. Perhaps this tempo was a good one for a Sunday afternoon restless audience, but the Schubertian poignancy and a touch of melancholy seemed to be missing.

The third movement, "Allegro vivace", was played quite well, with occasional issues of balance where the left hand was too loud. Feltsman immediately corrected for this in subsequent phrases, and made it eminently clear that he is a pianist who truly listens to himself. Felstsman's playing also made me keenly aware that he must be a wonderful teacher because of this essential listening and discernment, that only the finest musicians possess. Feltsman managed to make his interpretation convincing, because as fast as his tempi may have been, they were rock solid, with taught rhythmic control, and tasteful rubatos.

After Intermission, Feltsman displayed his greatest playing by far of the entire afternoon in his interpretation of Prokofieff's 6th Sonata in A major, Op. 82. This was perhaps the best Prokofieff Piano Sonata performance I have heard in recent years by any pianist. He achieved a completely different sound for this composer, highlighting the percussive, persistent rhythms, and even using his fist to punch out cluster chords on the black keys. The Allegretto movement featured a lovely contrast between the staccato chords and the melodic motifs, with a scherzando quality, and combining the sarcastic wit and lyricism of Prokofieff at all times. The final movement, Vivace, was very fast, with a dry and bright sound, excellent rhythmic clarity and and then a ghostly reminiscent and nostalgic expressiveness in the austere and extreme ranges of the piano. In his most dramatic gesture of the entire recital, Felstman struck the final chord of the Prokofieff and stood up as he did it, as if to show the enormous downward force compelled an "equal and opposite reaction" in the pianist!

Feltsman returned to the stage for just one encore, and it was magical- a transcription of Bach's "jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", which, to this listener, left nothing to be desired. Impeccable voicing, an organ-like sound, a gentle lilting quality. In short- absolute perfection, down to the very last note. This is a pianist who is a true artist in every sense of the word. Whether one agrees with his interpretations or not, he is engaging to listen to, even if not always the most dramatic and physically demonstrative in his delivery. Highly recommended!

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