When 25-year-old Soviet emigre pianist Youri Egorov made his New York debut last year, his playing created a stir among audiences and critics virtually unprecedented in recent years. How, many asked, could this virtuoso have been rejected recently in Fort Worth's Cliburn contest, only to have the captivated Texas citizenry come to his rescue with the monetary equivalent of the grand prize?
Saturday night's exciting debut here in an all-Chopin program at the Kennedy Center suggested a reason why. Egorov is not the note-perfect, play-it-safe sort of instrumentalist who scores the most points at today's contest. He is more than that. He is not satisfied merely to employ an extraordinary technique to produce what sounds like an exact computer readout of a composition. He reaches for the long harmonic and melodic line.
Exerting subtleties in dynamics and phrasing, he aims for the specific mood of a piece, instead of less meaningful generalities.
If this categorizes him as a romantic in a literalist age, it is no retrogression - for company, he has Horowitz, Richter and Rubinstein.
In fact, if there was any single pianist the recital brought to mind, it was the younger Cliburn - the one who never has fully developed as an interpreter, despite all the high hopes. As a Chopin player, Egorov already has one prerequisite, a delicate, easy singing sound in the right hand. Also he has enormous range of sonority, without seeming to pound.
But sometimes he neglects the bass notes and fails to bring out those inner voices that give Chopin that special sense of danger lurking beneath the surface. Thus the G minor Ballade was not what it might have been. Also, he would occasionally underinterpret. The famed E major Etude sounded listless when it needed intensity. And sometimes the pedaling blurred the phenomenal articulation.
But much of the balance of the performing - the Fantasie, the second Scherzo, and many of the Etudes - made those Fort Worth judges look foolish. May Egorov continue to develop this way.