In September 2015, in the first year of the Aptos Keyboard Series, Anna Dmytrenko amazed us with her commanding performance of three works — A Prelude & Fugue from the first book of Bach’s WTC, the world premiere of two works by Dr. Josef Sekon (founder of the Aptos Keyboard Series) and a powerful and profound performance of the great Brahms Sonata No 3. in F minor.
Well, yesterday afternoon, she returned in a blaze of glory to transport us once again into her magical world of music making. Virtuosity she has, for there is no work for the piano that she can’t assimilate and master, yet it is her complete musical understanding that gets to the core of each work she performs and ultimately gives her playing a natural and inevitable feeling that instantly wins over an audience.
The opening work on the afternoon’s program was a deeply felt performance of the Wagner-Liszt Liebestod. It portrayed a dramatic and moving aria leading up to Isolde’s grieving death by the body of her lover Tristan in a sweeping and ever more intense swirl of tremolandi and powerful chords. Dmytrenko began the work with a beauty of expression and extreme cantabile while demonstrating an amazing variety of colors and expressive nuances. The long drawn out sequential crescendos to the climax were especially successful in Dmytrenko’s performance.
In all my years of attending concerts I had never heard a performance of Schumann’s Waldszenen as a complete suite of nine pieces — yes, recordings I have heard, but never a live performance. Thus, it was a revelation yesterday to hear how Dmytrenko smoothly narrated the individual pieces and created a natural and inevitable flow. It was a charming and very effective performance.
Dmytrenko ended the first half of the program with a work most of us had never heard before — The Sonata Tragica by Nikolai Medtner, a vastly underrated contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff. This eleventh sonata (he wrote fourteen) is part of a cycle entitled “Forgotten Melodies” and is a work once heard that will not be forgotten. Dmytrenko gave it a powerful and intense performance that held us spellbound for almost twelve minutes. It received a standing ovation and lots of bravos.
The final half of the recital after intermission was devoted to two works by Rachmaninoff — Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42 and the first five Preludes from Op. 23. The Corelli Variations, written in 1931, are an ingenious treatment of the 16th-century portuguese dance tune, La Folia, and transport us through an intriguing set of variations, mostly in the key of D minor (but like the Paganini Rhapsody there is one astonishingly beautiful variation in D-flat major). One of the most effective features is the closing of the work after the bombast of the final variations; the sun comes out from behind a cloud in the form of a beautiful melody that quietly soars up to the highest treble on the piano, but then recedes in one final and partial statement of the La Folia theme as the last notes we hear before the ending silence closes the piece. Wow! it was a most moving performance.
The final Rachmaninoff work, five Preludes from Op. 23, contains some of the finest Preludes from this opus. The first of the five in B-flat major starts out with a mighty and percussive swirl of notes. On the second page, just when we are beginning to tire of hearing so many blatant and aggressive cascades in b-flat major, emerging the tenor, we hear an astonishingly beautiful melody that enters unannounced and all of a sudden transforms the work into greater profundity. After the lovely Prelude number 4 in D Major with its lovely melodies enmeshed in polyrhyms, the final Prelude in G Minor, probably the second most popular of his 24 preludes, was a knockout.
After a prolonged standing ovation, Dmytrenko gave us one encore, the Brahms Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2. I have to say that this was the most spontaneous and fresh performance of this piece I have ever heard — with gorgeous cantabile, lovely delineating of the contrapuntal lines, and a most satisfying and loving conclusion. I was astonished to discover in talking with her after the concert that she had only learned the piece a few weeks before,
This was a most satisfying recital. May she return over and over again.