Review: Zlata Chochieva is a Once-in-a-Generation Talent | The Flying Inkpot
MOZART – Nine Variations in D Major on a Minuet By Jean Pierre Duport, K. 573
SCRIABIN – Sonata No. 3, Op. 23
GRAZIOLI-FRIEDMAN – Adagio, from Harpsichord Sonata in G major Op. 2, No. 5
BACH-FRIEDMAN – Vivo, from Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, BWV 1048
MAHLER-FRIEDMAN – 2nd movement of Symphony No. 3 in D minor
SCHUBERT-LISZT – Wohin?, Litaney and Auf dem Wasser zu singen
MENDELSSOHN-LISZT – On Wings of Song
MENDELSSOHN-RACHMANINOV – Scherzo from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
GARTNER-FRIEDMAN – Viennese Dance No. 1
Zlata Chochieva, piano
Victoria Concert Hall
Friday 5 November 2021, 9PM
Review by Derek Lim
Even if you’re a jaded concert-goer, beg, steal or borrow a ticket for Zlata Chochieva’s concert tonight (6 Nov 2021) at the Victoria Concert Hall, for an experience that will clear the cobwebs right off your weary ears. Who is Zlata Chochieva? Somewhat of a Pletnev protege (read our exclusive interview here), she’s a 36-year-old Russian pianist whose recording of the Chopin etudes was fêted by Gramophone magazine as one of the top recordings. She’s also possibly one of the most “complete” musicians I have had the chance to hear in concert and dare I say, a once-in-a-generation talent.
In conceiving a wide-ranging programme beginning with Mozart before moving to Scriabin and finally through an array of transcriptions, Chochieva demonstrated a fearless technique, but also rock-solid musicianship. Incapable of playing a routine or pedestrian phrase, her exquisite pedaling and colour, golden tone and diva-like cantabile all featured prominently in her musical arsenal, but her unerring sense of rubato was perhaps the most remarkable aspect of her pianism.
A fearless communicator, her account of Mozart’s Duport Variations was in turns joyful, witty and pensive, with the joy of the music shining through. She maintained interest and spun a narrative through the thread of the variations while broadly applying her very musical rubato to expressive ends, especially in the melancholy ‘black pearl’-like 7th variation, brilliantly realizing Mozart’s score.
Her account of Scriabin Sonata No, 3 was an exercise in layering, shade and dark Russian story-telling: organically argued, she brought out the Chopinesque fantasy aspects of the music after the first movement recapitulation. After a statuesquely-played first theme, the second theme found her in a rhapsodic mood, darting in one direction, then the other – all underpinned by a deep, dark, resounding Russian sound and oodles of colour. The Allegretto Scherzo brought out pianistic fireworks, but also a burnished, lovely, almost Rachmaninovian sound that easily filled the entire concert hall in an interpretation that was white-hot but without hysteria. In the Presto con fuoco finale she demonstrated effortlessly her ability to build climax after climax, with waves of golden sound, building tension until the sudden unexpected end.
Transcriptions made up the rest of the programme, beginning with Ignace Friedman’s wonderful reinterpretation of Grazioli’s Adagio from his Harpsichord Sonata. Showing off a lovely cantabile, there was a bell-like clarity in her right hand in an undoubtedly Romantic interpretation – a lovely respite before the all-out virtuosity of Friedman’s transcription of ‘Vivo’ from the third Brandenburg. The technical difficulties here held no terrors for her, in a boundlessly energetic performance that not only brought out the drama in Bach’s music, but was also voiced impeccably, with sudden lightening of textures when the solo concertante voices came out.
But it was Friedman’s transcription of the second movement of Mahler’s Symphony No.3 (What the Flowers Tell Me) that was, for me, the highlight of the entire evening. For this Mahlerite, these two years have been a Mahler drought, save the OMM’s reduced-orchestra Mahler 4 earlier this year. When Mahler met Bruno Walter, he caught him admiring the mountains and said “Don’t bother to look up there. I’ve already composed all that away”. Well, with Chochieva’s performance the listener needn’t listen to the full orchestra – she played the movement with so much colour, wit, humour and with such mastery of shade (those gossamer string passages!) that I couldn’t imagine this being played any better – it was sheer perfection and had me shaking with emotion.
Despite the numerous repeats of the music, she found new life in each repetition and new ways to phrase each time in a manner that was never formulaic or predictable, with a stunning pianistic technique that brought the symphony to life. Who would have thought that the best Mahler I would hear this year would be at a piano recital?
The remaining transcriptions, though imbued with the same musicality as everything else this evening and definitely played at the same high calibre, couldn’t match the emotional intensity of what had come before. In the Schubert-Liszt Wohin?, Litaney and Auf dem Wasser zu singen, she had the piano sing like a master Lieder singer, with again an unerring sense of rubato: the last piece offered further reflections of the Russian piano school of playing, with some particularly granitic passages here. Mendelssohn’s ‘On the Wings of Song’ was masterfully rendered, with waves of radiant sound, the thorny Mendelssohn-Rachmaninov Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s dream was perhaps just a tad under-articulated, as might be expected at the breakneck speed she took, but it remained always musical. The Gärtner-Friedman Viennese Dance No.1 was all charm and romance with great rhythmic response amidst the filigree and virtuosity.
As encores she played the Chopin ‘Black Key’ etude – blisteringly executed but always in service of the music – , the Hopak from Mussorgsky’s The Fair at Sorochinsky – amazingly energetic and played as if it were the first thing on the programme – , and Pierre Sancan’s Toccata – a high octane piece that left the grateful audience on a musical high.