Review by David Richards
There was an air of excitement at Koerner Hall, on April 9th, even before the solo concert by Valentina Lisitsa. The ‘sold out’ sign was not the only indicator. There was a long line-up for rush seats; the security presence was higher than usual; and the crowds milled around the entrance hall and café with heightened expectation. The Internet sensation was here. Lisitsa rose from a career going nowhere when she decided to put her recording of the 24 Chopin Etudes, on YouTube, in 2007. Her self-promotion has been the poster-child of the power of the cyber world.
Her 200 million views on YouTube have propelled her to the top of the charts in the classical world. Her fan base spans the globe.
Following the well-publicized events of the past year which resulted in the cancellation of her 2014 Toronto Symphony performance, Lisitsa set out to show Toronto her musical roots. She planned a program of Russian composers: Scriabin, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. A selection of preludes and other short works by Scriabin in the first half of the program set out a reflective journey of the composer’s music. Beginning with a dreamy, ethereal quality, the energy gradually built to a climax in the demonically energetic Poѐme satanique Op. 36. She let the music tell the story. Her expressive playing was always controlled. This was a sublime performance and the audience responded with unreserved enthusiasm.
The second half of the program offered more Russian fare beginning with Tchaikovsky’s Children’s Album, Op. 39. This is not a work that shows off the virtuosity of the artist as much as it gives a glimpse into the Russian musical spirit. It is a collection of character pieces that one could imagine Lisitsa playing as a young girl. The sparkling animation of Song of the Lark, and the sorrow of The Doll’s Burial were accomplished with equally simple sincerity. The Russian soul was evident throughout. In Rachmaninoff’s monumental Piano Sonata No. 1, Op 28, Lisitsa was given the opportunity to show the magnitude of expression she was capable of. The programmatic music derived from the Faust tale, has all the scope and impact of the classic story. At times, audience members could imagine they were in a Russian cathedral, listening to chants and church bells. At other times, a dark foreboding underworld enveloped the music. Lisitsa gave a performance filled with integrity, passion and brilliance.
With the spontaneous outburst of shouts and a standing ovation from the audience at the conclusion of the Rachmaninov, Lisitsa surprised everyone by offering an encore by her page-turner, Canadian rising star, Anastasia Rizikov. She dazzled everyone with a virtuosic performance of Albeniz’s Triana. Lisitsa then followed with her own encore. In the spirit of ‘duelling pianos’, Lisitsa gave a display of technical wizardry with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. Her audience of Internet fans left the hall both satisfied by her musical athleticism and with a greater understanding of Lisitsa’s Russian musical heritage.
Koerner Hall’s upcoming concert series will continue with the fabulous Russian cellist, Mischa Maisky, on Saturday, May 7th playing the complete set of Bach’s unaccompanied suites in back-to-back performances at 4pm and 8pm.