Being a chemistry professor was much more than a day job for Alexander Borodin, even if he managed to fit in time to write indelible classical works. In fact, his mentor N.N. Zinin admonished Borodin not to chase two hares at the same time and instead concentrate on his research.
Borodin's dilemma must resonate with Victoria Bragin, who is both a chemist and a pianist -- winner of the 2002 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, no less. And Tuesday night she presented Borodin as chemist and composer, as part of the American Chemical Society's national meeting at the Washington Convention Center.
Given all the interesting information Bragin provided about Borodin's chemical career -- he developed innovative methods of fluorinating organic compounds! His work on aldehydes was praised by Dmitri Mendeleev, father of the periodic table! -- it seemed a pity that Borodin didn't write more solo piano music for her to play. She gave a full, rounded tone to the tolling of the bells in "At the Monastery" from the Petite Suite, and her light touch with the gushers of notes in the Scherzo in A-Flat made it clear why Vladimir Horowitz often used this piece as an encore.
The non-chemist music on the program did not fare quite as well. Beethoven's Sonata No. 18 in E-flat had too many technical hiccups to really get going. Bragin also lost her way in the fourth movement of Chopin's Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, though her poetic, intense account of the third movement still resonated deeply. The detailed attention she paid to its unfolding structure suggested some overlap between her two fields.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone