Concluding his Saturday, March 14 variegated recital of Russian romantic music at Smithwick Theatre, Foothill College, Russian pianist Alexander Ghindin (b. 1977) performed two luxurious, vibrantly passionate encores: the first, Rachmaninoff’s 1892 Elegie in E-flat Minor, Op. 3, No. 1, sang with opulent melancholy. The second encore, Scriabin’s fervent “Patetico” Etude in D-sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12, rang in impassioned chord strikes and left hand leaps that confirmed Ghindin’s colorful mastery in the music of his native land, performed on a par with legends Richter and Horowitz.
Ghindin opened his recital with Tchaikovsky’s “Russian Rustic Scene,” his 1885 Dumka, based on a Ukrainian ballad form that no less attracted Dvorák. Ghindin established the music’s plaintive, declamatory character, then smoothly segued to the con anima materials that lean heavily on folk dance motifs. A solid bass line moved in harmony with Ghindin’s delicately poised upper register to grand effect, a potent narrative rife with the composer’s personal wistfulness. No less effective, Glinka’s “The Lark” (1840) had the benefit of Balakirev’s bravura transcription, quite Lisztian in character, a combination of arioso bel canto and blinding technical wizardry we recognize from the transcriber’s Islamey. The ensuing Liadov Barcarolle in F-sharp Major in every way takes its “Venetian” impulse — albeit much truncated –from Chopin’s work in the same key. Ghindin provided the appassionato treatment, which guaranteed that auditors new to this charming miniature would crave another hearing.
Ghindin next approached the set of Op. 11 Preludes (1896) of Alexander Scriabin, half of the twenty-four, some taking their lyric cue from Chopin, others immersing themselves in an amalgam of restless Russian harmony and post-Wagnerian eroticism. The more brisk pieces certainly served as color etudes for Ghindin, who could realize dragonfly dynamics with the same deft clarity that his ripping fortes accomplish. To end his first half, Ghindin selected four Skazki, (folk tales), from the pen of the idiosyncratic Nikolai Medtner, who favors thick, dark harmonies in the manner of Brahms while he explores Russian modal harmony. Weird triads and dissonant passing chords marked each of the four pieces, three set in E minor. The “March of the Paladin” stood out polyrhythmic ethos that seems to mock the heroic impulse.
Ghindin’s capacity for playful color-characterization shone in Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” the 1936 political allegory for the Central Children’s Theater set into a piano transcription by Tatiana Nikolayeva. Ghindin’s facial gestures made as much an impression as his suave keyboard technique, raising the cast of characters who assemble to defy the voracious Wolf. Peter’s theme, treated in a variation mode akin to Mussorgsky’s persona in his Pictures at an Exhibition, underwent a series of lovely figurations that soon embraced the Bird, the Cat, the Duck, Grandfather, and the mighty Hunters. The transparency of effect rivaled the composer’s own Op. 75 keyboard arrangement of ten scenes from Romeo and Juliet. Mussorgsky’s own explosiveness illuminated the now-asbestos keyboard in his Hopak from Sorochinsky Fair, the first of three Rachmaninoff transcriptions from Ghindin: the other two, Tchaikovsky’s sweet Lullaby and Rimsky-Korsakov’s eternal Flight of the Bumble Bee, alternately sang and spun, the latter in distinctly Mendelssohnian antics.
The final work on the program proper, Rachmaninov’s revised version (1931) of his Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, afforded us a massive, emotional expanse that allowed us to assess Ghindin as a purveyor of grand designs. Besides the often contrapuntal textures, the ubiquitous sound of Russian bells dominates the effect, whose innate nostalgia runs rampant. The three movements run together without a clear break, so Ghindin rather poured out a white-hot magma that rarely – even in the Non allegro second movement – indulged in repose. Certainly, we could savor the “symphonic” character of Ghindin’s playing, his honest freedom in a grand palette of keyboard expression that looks as much to Schumann as to Chopin for its initial impetus.