Concert Review

Sofya Gulyak
Hellens, Much Marcle, nr Ledbury
30 September 2012

Co-promotion between the Autumn in Malvern Festival and Espressivo

After her triumphant appearance in the Malvern Autumn Festival a couple of years ago, the young Russian pianist Sofya Gulyak, winner of the 2009 Leeds Piano Competition, returned to open this year’s Festival in equally impressive style.

Given a few miles out of Malvern in the rustic surroundings of Hellens Manor Barn, her programme of bravura piano works revealed a command that reduced the massive technical demands she’d set herself to near insignificance. What we experienced instead was a display of sheer artistry of a kind that must surely earn Ms Gulyak a place among the world’s great concert pianists.

Devoid of contorted gymnastics, every gesture in her performance served the music. Devoted to works by Chopin, the first half of her programme opened in thoughtful mood with a pair of Nocturnes (Op.55 Nos 1&2). She then unravelled for us the complex intricacies of one of his less familiar works, the Polonaise-Fantasie in A flat, after which two barn-stormers, the C sharp minor Scherzo and the Grande Polonaise in E flat with its introductory Andante Spianato concluded the half in a display of pianism that was as dazzling as it was poetic.

After the interval Russia took over with a couple of pieces by Rachmaninov, the evergreen C sharp minor Prelude and the somewhat lightweight Polichinelle paving the way for the afternoon’s trump card: Prokofiev’s uncompromising Sixth Piano Sonata, one of his three ‘War Sonatas’, in which Gulyak captured the work’s anguish, anger, and pathos with stunning virtuosity. This was a recital of the very highest class.

John Rushby-Smith

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