Ukrainian pianist Alexander Slobodyanik electrified the audience Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater with his vigorous style and fierce technique. His program, largely Russian repertory, opened with Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" (itself an unusual first choice). Slobodyanik nearly overwhelmed the auditorium with very loud "Promenade" and "Gnome" sections but later adjusted his dynamics to a more suitable level. The pianist has a special virtuosity for lively rhythmic playing such as the "Baba Yaga" section of "Pictures," but once again the driving rhythm, particularly in the treble hand, often drowned out the melodic bass.
The haunting "Reflections," by Ukrainian composer Borys Lyatoshynsky, followed, of which Slobodyanik played only two "Miniatures." This is an intriguing work and I would have liked to have heard the remainder of it. The next two selections were more standard fare: a perfunctory Mendelssohn Fantasia and a Ballade by Chopin, the latter being elegantly rendered, leaving the listener in a cloud of lyric bliss, soon to be shattered by its unquiet successor, the Prokofiev Sonata No. 7. This sonata is both chaotic and nostalgic, the Andante being a morbid waltz reminiscent of the '30s. Slobodyanik played exceptionally well, achieving the doleful quality of the Andante and the relentless drive of the final Precipitato. Responding to the tumultuous applause that followed, the artist played one encore, the soothing and familiar Chopin Prelude No. 7.