By Dennis D. Rooney
The Steinway Gallery Boca Raton’s performance space, located at the rear of the showroom floor, was filled to capacity March 20 for a recital by Russian artist Zlata Chochieva, sponsored by Piano Lovers of South Florida.
Chochieva, a 32-year-old native Muscovite, studied with, notably, Mikhail Pletnev, and is a 2012 alumna of the Moscow State Conservatory. Her résumé shows her a prizewinner at 14 international piano competitions. She has an impressive list of performances in Europe but has not been heard much in the U.S. Her recordings of Chopin and Rachmaninov have received favorable notice, the former selected as an “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone magazine.
In her program of Mozart, Liszt and Chopin, she exhibited all the virtues of Russian training and some of the faults. She opened with an interesting transcription by Ignaz Friedman of the Siciliano (BWV 1031) by J.S. Bach, originally from his second accompanied flute sonata. She followed with two works of Mozart, the Fantasy in C minor (K. 396) and the Sonata in C (K. 545). The Fantasy, originally cast for violin and piano, was fragmentary until transcribed for solo piano and completed by Maximilian Stadler (1748–1833).
With only 27 measures of Mozart, it’s mostly Stadler and something of a curate’s egg. The Sonata is nicknamed Sonata facile and was marked by the composer “Only for beginners.” In all three works, one admired the evenly disciplined fingers, the clean articulation and balanced tone that are all hallmarks of Russian training. The Siciliano displayed attractive lyricism; however, in the Mozart works, there seemed an expressive constriction reined in by a certain academic style Russians often favor that stresses correctness at the expense of communicativeness. The sonata’s three movements lacked needed gaiety.
Three works of Franz Liszt were preceded by spoken annotations by Abram Kreeger, the coordinator and clearly the organization’s resident genius. The brief Klavierstück in F-sharp minor (S. 193) led the set. Both it and the succeeding Hymne de la nuit (S. 172a/2) were played with lovely shape, especially the Hymne, with its marked resemblance to a Chopin nocturne, and the rippling patterns of the Klavierstück, where the melodic material is divided between the hands.
Chochieva was less persuasive in the late Csárdás macabre (S. 224; composed in 1881-2, it wasn’t published until 1952. Liszt, when he completed it and then put it away, wrote: “May one write or listen to such a thing?”). She was unable to successfully organize its mini-sonata structure and the dynamic compass never seemed to focus.
In lieu of an intermission, the audience remained in their seats as Kreeger discussed the Études, Op. 25 of Frédéric Chopin. These touchstones of the piano repertoire are the composer’s second set of 12 such works that display different aspects of instrumental technique. They were published in 1837, four years after the Études of Op. 10. All of the Op. 25 Études have nicknames, none appended by the composer, but some have stuck, like No. 1 in A-flat, “Aeolian Harp”; No. 3 in F, “Horseman”; No. 11 in A minor, “Winter Wind”; and No. 12, “Ocean.”
In view of the rising temperature in the room, the prefatory remarks could have been shortened, but once Chochieva reappeared, she performed the whole set with dispatch. She surmounted every technical demand without apparent difficulty, but I suspect her tone would have gained in brilliance in a larger room. Occasionally a lack of color diminished the impact of her performance, as well as some miscalculations, such as the ursine manner that almost crushed the “Butterfly” of No. 9 in G-flat. No. 7 in in C-sharp minor is nicknamed “Cello,” but I hear more of a baritone arioso than a violoncello. In any event, her tempo was needlessly protracted.
But the A minor “Winter Wind” and concluding C minor “Ocean” finished the set strongly. As an encore, she played Nikolai Medtner’s Canzona serenata (Op. 38, No. 6). A younger contemporary of Rachmaninov, Medtner (1880-1951) is greatly admired in Russia. Thus Chochieva’s choice of one of his Forgotten Melodies came as no surprise.