Frederic Chopin created art amid exercise when he wrote his two collections of Etudes (Opp. 10 and 25, and not counting the three he wrote in 1839 for Fetis), and with the exception of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, they far outdistance every other such pedagogical work of their time.
Perhaps the monumentality of the challenge – like doing the complete 48 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier – makes pianists shrink from playing them one after another, or perhaps some of them just aren’t congenial (Vladimir Horowitz, for instance, said he couldn’t do three of them, including the two in C). Whatever the reason, the young Russian-German pianist Sofiya Uryvayeva deserves credit for playing all of them back to back, as she did Saturday night at the Boca Steinway Gallery.
Uryvayeva, now resident in Miami, has appeared four other times in the gallery’s Piano Lovers series, including a recital in March. She has a YouTube channel with a wide variety of performances including music by Messiaen, Brahms and contemporary Polish composer Gerard Drozd as well as Chopin, and her concert this past weekend drew a full house.
She is an impressive player, one with a strong technique, a very pronounced singing tone, and the ability to persuasively inhabit different emotional moods. Most of the etudes came off successfully, but three or four of them fell short of the standard of the rest, and will need some more work before they can be brought out in public again.
Uryvayeva played Op. 10, then Op. 25, in order, and without an intermission. She began quite well, with a sparkling performance of the first etude (in C, Op. 10, No. 1), which wasn’t simply a parade of well-drilled arpeggios; at one cadence she played the notes with a drier, wittier color that added an engagingly light touch. But in the following A minor Etude, she seemed to lose her fingering footing, and while the well-known E major Etude that came afterward was pretty and effective, the following two still showed signs of trouble. Things almost broke down in the C-sharp minor Etude (No. 4), and the familiar Black Key Etude (in G-flat) was cautious and earthbound, in music that needs to glitter and float.
But those were her most difficult moments, and the concert improved steadily after that. No. 8 in F bubbled along serenely, as did No. 10 in A-flat, though it could have used some different colors at the key changes. Her Revolutionary Etude (in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12) was suitably fiery and tempestuous, and drew warm applause from the audience.
The Op. 25 set opened with a lovely reading of the A-flat Etude, and she brought a fine spirit of playfulness to No. 3 in F. The A minor Etude (Op. 25, No. 4), needed some more emphasis on the offbeat melodic line, to bring out the tension between it and the steady march in the left hand. The famous waltz in the middle of the E minor Etude (No. 5) was suave and inviting, and her double thirds in the No. 6 (in G-sharp minor) were admirably even, and quiet enough to stay out of the way of the melody below.
In the popular C-sharp minor Etude (No. 7), Uryvayeva chose a slow tempo that emphasized her ability to play with a beautiful tone, but the passionate runs in the left hand, particularly the big E-flat scale in the middle, were not as clean and accurate as they needed to be. No. 9 (In G-flat) again showed this pianist’s impish side to charming effect, and while her octaves and forcefulness in the No. 10 (in B minor) were impressive, she could have made more of the break between the opening and the tender middle section.
She opened the Winter Wind Etude (No. 11 in A minor) very deliberately, and she used it to set up both the A minor and the C minor Etude that followed it, playing the two with no pause between them. Both of these etudes had a high degree of polish, and her sweeping arpeggios in the C minor Etude had great sweep and bravura.
As an encore, Uryvayeva played the Mikhail Pletnev arrangement of the culminating pas de deux from Act II of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. This has the same sort of endless arpeggiation that some of the etudes do, which made it a fitting extra. Here, too, Uryvayeva’s ability to play singing melody was uppermost.
Sofiya Uryvayeva is a young (28), ambitious pianist, and she’s well worth hearing. She has substantial gifts, wide-ranging musical interests, and a work ethic that has her frequently concertizing in numerous halls hereabouts. It seems to me that in order to make the most of her talents, she needs now to woodshed it a little more on the trickier points of technique, and perhaps add some more repertoire that stresses the independence of the hands.
I’m thinking Bach, and while she does include some of his pieces on her website’s repertoire list, I for one would be happy to hear her again in a concert of preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, or one or more of the suites, or perhaps a couple of the partitas. Bach, after all, was Chopin’s greatest influence aside from Mozart and Italian opera, and playing the music of the master from Eisenach is a wonderful way to deepen appreciation, and mastery, of Chopin’s aesthetic.
Next up in the Piano Lovers series is Margarita Shevchenko, Russian-born and trained in Moscow and Cleveland, and a member of the SoBe Institute of the Arts faculty in Miami Beach. Shevchenko will play three works by Chopin – the Barcarolle, the Polonaise in A-flat (Op. 53), and the Polonaise-Fantaisie – as well as the complete Op. 116 Fantaisies of Johannes Brahms. The concert this coming Saturday at the Boca Steinway Gallery begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, and $25 at the door. Call 929-6633 or visit www.pianolovers.org.