Although he is still in his mid-teens, prize-winning pianist Sergiy Komirenko has been fascinating and amazing Triangle audiences for a long time-and audiences elsewhere for still longer. Ah, to be at once so young and so talented! As a guest artist, he played a full recital for the Governor's School (East) at Meredith College on July 15. Carswell Recital Hall was virtually packed for the wide-ranging program, and the crowd seemed largely transfixed despite the lack of basic creature comforts brought on by an air conditioning system that no one at the host institution seemed to know how to activate or control.
The evening began with an effective performance of Chopin's Barcarolle; the first section was highly atmospheric and the second, boldly played and often brassy. It's possible that our reaction to this and to other dynamic sections, later on, stemmed at least in part from the new Yamaha grand; its upper register is bright to the point being tinny in loud passages. The Barcarolle led to the first of two Etudes from Op. 10, both of which were dazzling in their respective ways. Komirenko's Chopin seemed a tad stiff but we sense this may have been a minority view.
As pianist, harpsichordist and scholar Igor Kipnis recently reminded us in a paraphrase of another artist's commentary, musicians who play early music on modern instruments "have a variety of interpretive choices to make." Komirenko offered the Ricercare a 6 from Bach's A Musical Offering , and it was quite effective, despite, or perhaps because of, the liberties he took in tempo and expression that would have been more far more appropriate in his Chopin selections. It has long been apparent that we cannot totally re-create the performance practices of earlier eras; those of us who hear such attempts are not of, say, Bach's time, and we bring along the baggage we have accumulated in the classical, romantic, and modern periods. Original instruments performances, now apparently waning in popularity here, had one tremendous virtue: we tended to listen to familiar music even more closely than usual, in order to tell what was "different" in the various readings. For some of us, this now spills back over to performances of Bach and other masters when played on high-tech products of the post-industrial age. From this perspective, Komirenko's reading was an exercise in fascination and delight.
So, too, was his performance of Scriabin's F-Sharp Major Sonata (No. 4). For reasons not altogether clear, this music seemed to fit him like a proverbial glove, and his realization was stunning.
The first half jumped about a bit from Chopin to Bach to Scriabin; there were no readily-apparent continuity, and there were no program notes. Indeed the program itself, largely devoid of keys and tempo indications for sonata movements, was short of the mark; we must do better, particularly in "educational" settings such as school concerts. Likewise, the second half encompassed Mozart - the charming second Rondo - and the revised version of Rachmaninoff's Second Sonata. Ray Kilburn played the latter here in its original, extended edition not long ago, so it was good to hear it again, a second time.
Kilburn, who has left us for Ball State University, is a powerhouse pianist; Komirenko has the makings of one, too, although it may be premature to speculate what direction his career will take. Will he become another Berman or will poetry a la Perahia be his milieu? His was certainly a big, dramatic performance, and the crowd went wild at its conclusion, recalling the young artist again and again. During the last bow there was a hint of a smile, although it seemed to break through with difficulty. Komirenko is a Wunderkind whose playing never fails to impress, even on those occasions when his readings might be viewed as somewhat shallow, but he takes himself and his work exceedingly seriously, and it seems to us that a more relaxed demeanor would help convey his personal delight in his prodigious playing.