Pianist Lilya Zilberstein made her local debut in Fletcher Opera Theater on the evening of January 30, playing a solid German-Russian program that reflected her heritage: the Moscow-born artist currently resides in Hamburg. She performed on the Great Artists Series, which - we have been asked to state - is presented by the NC Symphony. Like most artists, great and not so great, featured on this series, she did not appear in concert with the NC Symphony while she was here this time, but perhaps she will at some point be invited back to do so.
The turnout was only so-so on a night when there wasn't much else going on in the capital. The program was appealing - two Beethoven sonatas and thirteen Rachmaninov preludes, given in one big gulp. We haven't heard Rachmaninov played here like Zilberstein played these preludes since Ray Kilburn left Peace College several seasons ago, but Zilberstein was much less flamboyant, and her approach suited the kaleidoscopic pieces - all of Op. 32 - extremely well. These are not often given in one sitting, in part because they are so demanding. The composer's works in this form exist in three sets, and the best-known one, in c sharp minor, often called The Prelude, is in a little five-number collection titled Morceaux de fantaisie (Op. 3), from which no selections were played. There are ten preludes in Op. 23, and the thirteen offered on this occasion are from a collection published in 1910. Rachmaninov was, of course, a great pianist and an acceptable conductor, and he was one of the earliest composers to benefit extensively and directly from the phonograph. Among his many recordings are Nos. 3, 5, 6, 7 and 12 of the set under discussion; two of these records are 1920-21 acoustic items, but the others are splendid-sounding electrical discs. We explain all this because someone asked me where the c-sharp minor Prelude was..., and because there were, as usual at these NCS-GAS concerts, no notes on the music - a major oversight, in our view, and one that is hard to fathom for such big-ticket offerings.
The Preludes get underway with a big swoosh that carries listeners into Rachmanonov's late-Romantic sound world. There's a lot of variety as they unfold, but the composer's touches are always evident - people who know his symphonies or concerti will recognize the style. These are not happy pieces, and in all of them there are dark undercurrents. The large, moody Prelude in e minor (No. 4) contrasted admirably with the ensuing G Major one, and there were parallel, if inverse, contrasts in Nos. 7 and 8 (in F and a minor), and elsewhere. The 10th Prelude contains one of the composer's most haunting themes, and it was splendidly realized. The left hand tended to dominate from time to time throughout the recital, and several of the pieces were taken so rapidly they made little musical sense. Rachmaninov fans were nonetheless surely in ecstasy during most of the performance, which consumed the recital's second half. It was helpful that Zilberstein made the breaks between the pieces clear, but even so, the last Prelude, in D-Flat, begins with a grandiose introduction and ends with a big and extended bang, so there is no doubt when the set ends. The applause was warm and many in attendance stood. The artist rewarded her patrons' enthusiasm with a lovely rendition of the serene Moment musical No. 5, from Op. 16.
The program began with two Beethoven sonatas - Op. 2/2, in A, and Op. 57, in f minor, dubbed "Appassionata." The first was composed in 1794-5 and was dedicated to Haydn; the second, written in 1804-5, was dedicated to a minor member of the nobility. Zilberstein gave big, Romantic performances, fairly heavily pedaled, of both. Her approach worked in the latter but did not serve the inherent classicism of the earlier piece particularly well. There were a few smudges and a few missed notes, and her tempi, especially in the last movement of the "Appassionata," were sometimes brisk. For the most part, her choices worked well for her, since she has outstanding technique and copious musicianship, but under the circumstances the A Major Sonata was more an interpretation than a revelation.
For more information about Zilberstein, see http://www.schmidtart.com/artists/zilberstein/bio_zilberstein.html [inactive 5/04].