Pianist Anna Vinnitskaya dazzled in her Terrace Theater performance.
Pianist Anna Vinnitskaya dazzled in her Terrace Theater performance. (By Gela Megrelidze)
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Anna Vinnitskaya

Pianist Anna Vinnitskaya, a laureate of a half-dozen major international competitions, made her North American debut in the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Saturday afternoon, meeting high expectations with aplomb. This artist, at 25, is in the full flower of her musical and pianistic abilities. So much so that her one-dimensional program was something of a disappointment -- mostly bombastic works by Russian pianist-composers (Rachmaninoff, Medtner and Gubaidulina) followed by the Lizst Sonata.

Vinnitskaya is a true lioness at the keyboard, devouring the most difficult pages of music with adamantine force. She seemed almost to relish the technical thickets, never rushing, never banging, maintaining control of wildly different simultaneous textures (in the Gubaidulina Chaconne) and pacing long buildups with unswerving focus. In this literature, she has everything a top-level artist needs.

But the question of what Vinnitskaya would do in Bach, Mozart or Schubert hung in the air afterward. For her second encore, she tossed off Chopin's First Etude with predictable insouciance but almost no variety. In the contemplative F-sharp major section of the Liszt, the color and pacing were a little bland, almost as though her interest flagged when the technical challenges went away. But certainly, this was a most auspicious debut of a major talent.

-- Robert Battey


It's probably not the best idea to bill any serious program as "The Best of . . . " whether it's the best of Broadway or of opera or -- as was in the case with Chantry's Saturday evening concert at St. Paul's Parish on K Street -- the best of the Renaissance. It's too easy to come up with a mishmash of hits.

But Music Director David Taylor is smarter than this. He embedded Giovanni di Palestrina's "Missa Papae Marcelli" in a context of motets. Josquin des Prez' exquisite "Ave Maria -- Virgo Serena" and a motet by Francesco Guerrero opened the concert; two upbeat and rhythmically exciting motets by William Byrd ended it; and in between the Gloria and the Sanctus of the Mass were Gregorio Allegri's antiphonal setting of the Tenebrae psalm "Miserere Mei Deus" and Part 1 of the "Lamentations of Jeremiah" by Thomas Tallis. The evening began with quiet serenity and ended in dancelike joy.

To the Renaissance buffs among us, these were old favorites -- all but the Allegri, which has had a startling makeover. Taylor and his choral forces used a new scholarly edition that scatters ornamentation all over the counterpoint, raises the tessitura (the general pitch level) to barely comfortable heights and throws an occasional and surprising raised fourth into cadences.

The 16 singers handled all this very well. They sing intelligently and with a rhythmic flow dictated by the poetry and not the bar line. What needs work, however, is balance. In an idiom where the ideal is of ebb and flow among the four vocal parts, the sopranos dominated most of the time while the basses never had the heft needed to enrich the sonority.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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