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Concert review: Yuliya Gorenman wins over the audience with a winning ‘Scheherazade’

Yuliya Gernman performed Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I” at Sunday’s opening concert for the 2019 Northwest Bachfest. (Courtesy of El Paso Pro-Musica)
Yuliya Gernman performed Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I” at Sunday’s opening concert for the 2019 Northwest Bachfest. (Courtesy of El Paso Pro-Musica)
By Larry Lapidus For The Spokesman-Review

At her inaugural recital of the 2019 season of the Northwest Bachfest, at which she performed the entire “Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1” of J.S. Bach, Yuliya Gorenman won the admiration of her audience. At her second recital, she won their hearts.

Again, the program was a daunting one for the performer: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s vast symphonic suite, “Scheherazade,” in an original transcription for piano by Gorenman herself. As she explained to us after the performance, her motivation in making the transcription was to be able to play “Scheherazade” for her father, who loves the piece above all others. Consequently, the transcription is scrupulously faithful to the original, lacking any meretricious additions designed to show off the performer’s technical gifts, which in the case of Yuliya Gorenman, are considerable.

Her Olympian technique was evidenced especially in her ability to play with perfect clarity and expression the many passages in which Rimsky-Korsakov weaves together several independent voices or melodies. At many points, it was hard to imagine how only 10 fingers could negotiate such complexity, much less how it could be managed with such utterly relaxed musicality. In the Russian School of piano performance, this, rather than purling scales or rocketing octaves, signals the highest level of achievement.

The comfortable ambiance of Barrister Winery allows one to see the reactions of others in the audience to what they are hearing. The beaming smiles and eyes closed in concentration made it plain that Gorenman had succeeded in her goal of embracing the audience, rather than bowling it over. The consistently warm, velvety tone we heard in her first recital was still everywhere deployed, perhaps even more suitably in giving voice to Rimsky-Korsakov’s sensuous, exotic melodies. The relaxation and naturalness of her approach to the keyboard allowed her to convey to us the beauty and power of Rimsky-Korsakov’s conception as though she were a bard of Homer’s time, keeping his audience enthralled throughout the days-long course of an epic poem.

After a few minutes of warm and informative banter with the audience, Gorenman demonstrated her versatility through three quite dissimilar encores; first demonstrating her mastery of the jazz idiom with “You Go to My Head” (1938) with a mastery of phrasing and pedaling one is unlikely to hear in a cocktail lounge. Then, in response to urging from festival artistic director Zuill Bailey, we heard a poignant, lyrical performance of the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13. The evening concluded with a performance of the Nocturne for the Left Hand Op. 9 by the late-romantic Russian composer, Alexander Scriabin. Without in any way denigrating the quality of Gorenman’s superb playing of the other works in which we have heard her, it must be remarked that her playing of the Scriabin Nocturne showed a mastery of idiom and a degree of technical finish so high as to suggest that this is the sort of repertoire most native to her, where her training, her natural gifts and her deepest sympathies converge.

In an effort to acquaint the audiences at the Northwest Bachfest with some of the talented young musicians in our area, Bailey is dedicating a 20 minute segment before the opening of each concert to the playing of an outstanding young musician. On Sunday afternoon, we had a chance to hear Yvette Kraft, a marvelous musician, plain and simple. Her rendition of two movements from the Partita No 1 for solo violin by Bach left this listener convinced that he could happily go on listening to her play forever. Before Gorenman took the stage to play “Scheherazade,” we were able to hear Noah Reason, horn, perform without accompaniment the first movement of Richard Strauss’ delightful Horn Concerto No 1, Op. 13. Reason is one of the winners of this year’s Concerto Competition of the Spokane Youth Symphony, and will be featured, along with his fellow winners, in a performance of the Strauss concerto on March 17 at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. Although betrayed a bit by his nerves on Wednesday night, Reason displayed a very distinctive, well-focused tone throughout the wide range demanded by Strauss. This is a quality that many professional horn players struggle throughout long careers to achieve, often without success.

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