Review of Ilya Yakushev's February 23, 2019 Concert
By Lana Robotewskyj
To quote German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), "Music is the occult metaphysical exercise of a soul not knowing that it philosophizes." This idea of supernatural soul-searching and questioning can be applied to the programming chosen and performed by Russian pianist, Ilya Yakuchev.
On Saturday evening, Ilya performed a very special and memorable program at Farley's House of Pianos. Prior to his evening piano concert, Ilya conducted a public masterclass that afternoon for three area piano students who performed works of Beethoven and Chopin. Reminding the students that they must use their voices to phrase, their fingers to sing, and their ears to time the last note is reminiscent of Chopin, whose great love of Viennese opera influenced his own teachings and writings, and that of Artur Schnabel who is known to have said "bar lines should be seen, but not heard." As evidenced by all, Ilya is as good of an instructor as he is a performer. And what a performance!
The program opened with Mozart's very mysterious Adagio in B minor, K440. Ilya mentioned that this is the only whole piece written in B minor. There is one other, but merely a movement to Mozart's earlier D Major Flute quartet, K 285. For this reason, this key is very unusual yet special for Mozart. Ilya's touch was perfect for the mood and dark style of the piece; not overly romanticized, but just enough pedal and dynamic range to set apart this work from Mozart's earlier works. This was the perfect prelude to lead into the next piece.
Ilya followed with Beethoven's Sonata in F Minor, Op. 57. This sonata was written soon after Beethoven's letter of anguish to his brothers regarding the loss of his hearing. We learned through Ilya that Beethoven considered this sonata his most turbulent and emotional until "Hammerklavier," yet it is still considered one of his three greatest sonatas ever written during his middle period. Ilya invoked the spirit of Beethoven through his playing. The desperation Beethoven felt and wrote into this piece was so clearly heard through Ilya's celestial and diabolical approach. He not only played with fire, but with a heavenly, demonic sense of Sturm und Drang. As I listened, I marveled at his control of dynamic contrasts, incredible speed, and the Herculean stamina required to finish this piece with a bang. In my mind, the piano lit up in flames following his last note.
Ilya's second half of the program opened with Tchaikovsky's "Valse Sentimentale." This is the last movement from Six Pieces, Op. 51, and sentimental it was! The timing of his phrasing, the voicing and directional playing of the melody, and his physical demeanor and choreography of his technique were all very communicative of a story that Ilya told through his fingers. I wish I knew what the story was but asking is intrusive and very personal to the performer, so I can only guess. I believe the connection to this piece has much to do with the composer himself. Tchaikovsky died in the very same city that Ilya was raised and lives in: St. Petersburg. Very, very beautiful!
Liszt's transcription of Schumann's "WidMung," S. 566, awakened senses I thought forever lost; a reminder of why I fell in love with the piano in the first place. Thank you for this.
Chopin dedicated his C# Minor Nocturne to his older sister, Ludwika, as "an exercise before beginning the study of his second concerto." Anyone who knows this nocturne will never think of it merely as an "exercise," but as a small piece of an enormous art which emits raw and painful emotions, filled with haunted longing and deep internal conflict. Ilya announced this as his personal favorite nocturne, and after performing this, I believe this has become everyone else's favorite nocturne. In an interview from a few years ago, Ilya mentioned that he has come to understand Chopin, and what Chopin wanted. I know what I want, and that is to hear Ilya play more Chopin. The silence following the last note before the uproar of applause was deafening. Ilya's playing of this nocturne was exquisite.
The concert ended with Liszt's "Vallée d'Obermann" from Années de Pélerinage. This piece is based on a title character from the novel "Obermann," written by Étienne Pivert de Senancour. After a harrowing set of events, the title character soul searches through Switzerland seeking answers or the truth. Without surprise, Ilya portrays this search effortlessly with his fingers. His unwavering focus and concentration took the entire room on a Lisztian journey of many sensations. Liszt's music has that effect and Ilya has the technique and emotional prowess to bring Liszt back to life. If this piece is based on looking for the truth, then I have found my answer; and that is that Ilya is my new favorite pianist.
There is so much more to listening to music that is beyond the right notes, the right rhythms, the steadiness and evenness of scaler passages, dynamics, etc. If one feels as one listens, then this is the mark of talented musician and a successful performance. I don't tear easily and to feel something after I thought I was devoid of feeling anything, is remarkable. This performance gave me what I needed, and I am certain everyone walked out of that performance fulfilled with what they needed. Attending concerts is key to staying motivated and gives one the desire to be better, and to keep learning. I can't wait to start work on the transcription and the valse!
As with all of the Salon Piano Series concerts, we were invited to partake in the beautiful reception afterwards of wine, sweets, and savories and to have a chance to talk with Ilya. I am hopeful that Ilya will come back again soon to play at Farley's. Until then, I have some practicing to do.
Thank you, Ilya. Well done!
Lana Robotewskyj Melodiya Piano Academy, LLC