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Recital Review Print

Komirenko Farewell

December 14, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

For four years, Triangle residents have been both blessed and privileged to hear periodic concerts by two brilliant young musicians, Olena and Sergiy Komirenko, who with their family came here from Ukraine, and whose natural talents have been fostered by Brian Reagin, Concertmaster of the NC Symphony, and by Raleigh-based piano teacher and composer John Ruggero. The blessing was and remains that these are exceptional musicians, by any standard. The privilege was and remains that they have grown and developed before our eyes and ears, and being able to witness this sort of artistic evolution is a rare experience for most music lovers outside the teaching profession. Now their father has obtained a job on the West Coast, so the family is leaving Raleigh. Indeed, Papa K. is already in San Francisco, and the others depart within a week. A recital presented on the evening of December 14 marked Olena and Sergiy Komirenko's artistic farewell to the Triangle. Here's hoping they will return from time to time for additional performances.

The program served to inaugurate a new venue, dubbed Bösendorfer Recital Hall and located in Richard Ruggero's new piano shop at 4720 Hargrove Road (http://www.ruggeropiano.com/). The room, which seats around 160 people, is named for the famous piano company Ruggero now represents here. One of the firm's top-of-the-line 9'6" instruments, the Bösendorfer Imperial that made its local debut at a recent concert by Ignat Solzhenitsyn and the Brentano String Quartet, was used for this concert. Ruggero plans to present a series of what are expected to be fairly informal programs in the new venue, details of which will be listed in CVNC 's calendar. The raised platform is attractively lit, and at this first concert, house lights were kept up at a reasonable level.

The program began with Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 16 in G, Op. 31, No. 1. The reading was remarkable in many respects. Sergiy Komirenko, now 17, always impressive for his age, has become a truly compelling performer, and his playing was magical throughout. He clearly had command of the music, and the results were often spectacular, but it was not immediately apparent how much this stemmed from the artist himself and how much was contributed by the instrument. The voicing was wonderful, and everything emerged with startling clarity. In this fine room, with the fine piano, the player's artistry emerged as never before in our experience with him.

There followed Ravel's La valse , which was in some ways even more spectacular. It's a depressing, often horrifying deconstruction of the Viennese waltzes that were so wildly popular in the waning years of the 19th century, and the edition used had been gussied up by Komirenko's teacher, who incorporated some of the score's alternate lines, saying, after the performance, that he wanted to give his student more notes to play. He played them all, with no apparent glitches, and the results were at once bracing and awe-inspiring.

Violinist Olena Komirenko then joined her older brother for the evening's second French piece, Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28. Their partnership was outstanding, and balance was consistently outstanding, too, despite the fact that the piano's lid remained up. She would benefit from having an instrument that is as good as the piano used on this occasion, but she navigated the violin part's often-treacherous passages with great skill and keen musical understanding.

After the intermission, Sergiy Komirenko returned to play for the first time in public Chopin's Third Sonata, in B Minor, Op. 58. If I may be forgiven a personal note, let me say that this is, for my wife (the pianist in our family) and me, one of the greatest piano sonatas in the literature (and yes, we realize that our sweeping generalization includes all of Beethoven's). It works, however, only when played by an artist of the highest standing, and on a particularly good night, too. For most of our lives, we have measured performances of this score by the standards set by William Kapell, in a recording issued by RCA. No other artists have, in our view, approached him in this music - not Perahia or Lipatti or Rubinstein or any of the other highly-touted Chopin specialists. On this occasion, Komirenko managed to match, in the last movement, the achievements of Kapell. The rest was wonderful, if not quite at the level of the finale - what was here and there missing in the other movements, which are, admittedly, somewhat episodic, was a sense of overall line and continuity. These qualities will surely come in future readings; we must remember that this was Komirenko's first performance of the work, in a public venue. And even with these minor reservations, the reading was the best we've yet heard, anywhere, by anyone, in concert.

In retrospect, the rest of the program should probably have preceded the Chopin. Olena and Sergiy Komirenko played Sarasate's exciting "Zigeunerweisen" ("Gypsy Airs"), Op. 20, No. 1, milking it for all it was worth. Her playing was breathtaking, and even her left-hand pizzicatti were flawlessly placed, but our breath had been taken by the preceding sonata.

The grand finale was Sarasate's "Navarra," Op. 33, for which the two siblings were joined by violinist Ian Livingston, of the Duke University String School, and dancer/choreographer Luisa Giovanna Montoya, of the Raleigh Dance Theatre. Her contributions were effective, and she made good use of the light and shade on the illuminated platform. It capped an evening that might be called a four-bouquet affair, since all the participating artists received flowers, but that doesn't include a fifth bunch, presented by Mrs. Komirenko to John Ruggero, who helped arrange some of the support - in terms of training and otherwise, too - the family has enjoyed during its residency here, in Raleigh. At the end, during the floral tributes, there were smiles all around, from the audience and, finally, from the artists, too. Bon voyage!