Pianist Yuliya Gorenman won fourth prize at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 1995. Since coming to the United States to continue her studies, she has settled in Washington, teaching and serving as musician-in-residence at American University. Her recitals there, including a complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, have lately had a national focus, ending with Russian composers in a program heard on Saturday night at the Katzen Arts Center.
Gorenman opened with Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons,” a set of 12 brief pieces commissioned for a Russian monthly magazine, one for each month of the year in 1876. Most are pleasant, tuneful miniatures, given programmatic titles and matching quotes of poetry by the magazine’s editor, and they are much better known in Russia. (Gorenman, for example, recalled hearing them used as background music for the weather forecast in the Soviet Union, where she grew up.) She made a case for them as concert music, especially the melancholy “Autumn Song” for October and the jangling sleigh bells of November’s “Troika.”
Scriabin was represented best by his daring “Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand.” Gorenman, who had a tendency to overpower sometimes with her booming left hand, excelled under this limitation, using her left hand for both power and melodic finesse. The same composer’s “Sonata-Fantasia No. 2,” an evocation of the sea under moonlight and then disturbed by a storm, felt a little rushed in the former movement and heavy-handed in the latter.
Leaving no doubts as to Gorenman’s still-formidable technique was the final selection, Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme by Corelli.” By the end of this long-winded work, which even the composer himself once described as boring, Gorenman’s pressing of loud dynamics and fast tempos wore on the ear. Encores continued in the same spirit, with Rachmaninoff’s C-sharp Minor prelude (Op. 3, No. 2) overly thunderous and Schubert’s E-flat impromptu (Op. 90, No. 2) taken at an unnecessarily manic tempo.
Downey is a freelance writer.