The Classical Concert Series has a long history of presenting outstanding rising instrumentalists in recital. For its second concert of the season, November 14, pianist Alexandre Pirojenko presented a wide-ranging program in the Sunrise Theatre in Southern Pines. Among a plethora of contest prizes, placing first in the 2004 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York led to this local appearance. Many musicians who have run the medal-gathering gauntlet come out with many technical skills but are found wanting in both individuality and depth of insight. Pirojenko made everything he tackled seem effortless but in all pieces his technique was subordinated to a clear over-all vision. His stage manner is very business-like and self-effacing. As his hands raced over or caressed the keyboard, the audience was transfixed by his extraordinary wide palette of color and timbre, his dexterity as he clearly articulated notes at high speed, and his broad and carefully-nuanced dynamics, ranging from the barest whisper to thundering octaves. Eschewing flamboyant gestures, Pirojenko whipped up huge waves of sounds while hardly seeming to change the distance of his hands from the ivories – a quality shared with an older generation of pianists such as Claude Frank, Earl Wild, and Luiz de Moura de Castro.
All these qualities were displayed in Pirojenko's opening selection, Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie in A- flat, Op. 61. Beginning ever so quietly and slowly, he made the melodic lines sing and managed to hold the wild cavalcade together all the way to its fiery conclusion. Franz Liszt's arrangements of Six Polish Songs by Chopin gave the pianist scope to portray widely varied moods, now joyful, now melancholy, now dance-like, now lyrical. Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19 in d minor makes use of the "czardas," a dance based on variations in tempo. Pirojenko pulled out all the stops as he alternated slow, sliding phrases with ominously rumbling chords. He conjured up rich sonority for César Franck's Prelude, Chorale et Fugue, M.21, and his agility was astonishing during the many instances of crossed hands. Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat, Op. 83, is the middle and most popular of three "War Sonatas," composed while the composer was evacuated from Moscow. The haunting theme of the first movement is sped along by a threatening and overpowering rhythm. The lyrical theme of the second movement provides the strongest possible contrast before returning to the opening movement's intensity. The last movement blends dissonance and jazz-like rhythms and ends in a dazzling display of keyboard virtuosity. Despite the well-known conservatism of this series' audience, listeners were so swept up in Pirojenko's spell that he received a prolonged standing ovation. Their reward was a rarity in our area, the "Polichinelle" in f–sharp minor, No. 4 of Rachmaninov's Morceaux de fantasie, Op. 3. In addition to characteristic plush melodies, its comic rhythms show "Old Stone Face" in good humor.