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Music School: Ksenia Nosikova, piano

Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op. 24
Liszt: Polonaise mélancholique in C minr, S223, No. 1
Liszt: Années de Pèlerinage:
   Aux cyprés de la Villa d'Este I: Thrénodie
   Aux cyprés de la Villa d'Este II: Thrénodie
   Les jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este
Liszt: Polonaise No. 2 in E major, S223, No. 2

Ksenia Nosikova, piano


Appearing as a guest artist in the School of Music's Morphy Hall Monday evening, Ksenia Novikova displayed considerably greater affinity for the music of Liszt than for that of Brahms. She is, nonetheless, a fairly commanding performer, easily negotiating the occasional memory slips that plague nearly all but the most seasoned concert artists, and possessing a large technique despite fairly small hands.

In the Brahms, the main problems were a somewhat constricted dynamic range -- relying too much on forte and fortissimo in music that requires far greater use of moderate and soft playing -- and a unsteady tempo concept that tended to isolate the 25 variations from one another instead of unifying them. As a result, bravura passages tended to blur from being rushed, robbing them of their élan. These problems were if anything greater in the fugue, where the impression of virtuosity ultimately comes more from restraint than from flat-out excess.

As an aside, I've long thought the Handel Variations are greatly overexposed, given that most of Brahms's other sets of variations are more interesting musically.

The same purely pianistic problems were also present in the five Liszt works offered, but to a smaller degree. More importantly, here the strictly musical concepts were much more fully delineated. For all that a polonaise is in essence a very vigorous, showy dance, both Liszt works in this form are more nearly extended fantasies into which the familiar characteristic rhythm bursts somewhat like a passing storm. But it was precisely in the more rhapsodic playing that Nosikova's talents showed to best advantage. Introspective, recitative-like declamations got all the space they deserved, including silences. It was musically very poetic. In the fast passages, some of them overpedaled, things were sometimes blurred that might have been clearer. Even so, Nosikova had a firm grip on the overall design.

The Years of Wandering are among the most rewarding of all Liszt works. Nosikova has recorded them, so it was not surprising she brought deeper insights to her performance of them here. I think it takes a certain sensibility to succeed in Liszt, a kind of inner devotion to piano playing itself, the music somehow bound up inseparably with the very doing of it. In the end, reservations about this or that detail were of little importance in the context of the whole, which was full of light, warmth and joy.

Madison Music Review, October, 2002
Copyright 2002 Jess Anderson

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