The pianist Valentina Lisitsa has not taken a straightforward path to success. She’s been playing and performing for years, but her career seemed to be tanking until she, on a whim, posted some videos to the Internet in 2007 and attracted, over time, more than 56 million viewers. She’s been appearing in the Washington area for a long time (including a few performances with the violinist Hilary Hahn), but only in the past few years, now that she’s in her 40s, is she hitting the big time. And when she was finally booked for a solo recital at the Library of Congress this fall, the government shut down, so she had to reschedule for a later date. That date finally arrived, Friday night. She was more than ready.
Lisitsa is a growing star with a big-label recording contract and concert dates with the big orchestras and in the big recital halls of the world. So it’s striking that her playing is relatively straightforward. Let me backtrack — “straightforward” is an inadequate term for virtuosity. Lisitsa is a big, big player. She opened Friday’s concert with a set of Rachmaninoff and showed herself more than equal to the music of that virtuosic composer, setting the piano aquiver, then and throughout the evening, with big pounding chords that left the strings trembling and humming in her wake. And she is also a delicate, sensitive, fluid player who can ripple gently over the keys with the unctuous smoothness of oil. The whole evening — which flowed from Rachmaninoff preludes to Prokofiev’s fiendishly difficult B-flat sonata (the seventh), a set of Chopin nocturnes to Liszt’s “Totentanz” — was poised between these two extremes.