Making it to the final round of the Sydney International Piano Competition is no mean feat. The gruelling schedule in which 32 hand-picked concert pianists compete for three weeks is much like a tennis grand-slam event. In the most recent Sydney competition in 2016, Kazakh pianist Oxana Shevchenko made it to the final six, winning the Chamber Music Prize and placing fifth overall. Now residing in St. Petersburg, Shevchenko is still enjoying the accolades of her success in Sydney. Her Melbourne recital on Tuesday night marked the penultimate stop of her 10-day Australian tour, organised by the Sydney International Piano Competition.
The recital took place in the intimate Primrose Potter Salon within the Melbourne Recital Centre. For this event, the audience, numbering close to 100, was seated in a U-shape around the piano. The lighting was most appropriate for the season — soft autumnal reds and oranges gave the room a warm and inviting glow.
Shevchenko began with Beethoven’s Sonata quasi una fantasia Op. 27 No.1. This work, in E flat major, is the neglected companion of the more famous Moonlight Sonata. The tender opening Andante was played with superb control, a beautiful warmth of tone and careful balance of parts. As each of the four-bar phrases unfolded, it was as if Shevchenko gently coaxed us to come with her on a journey. We followed obligingly as the Sonata proceeded, without a pause between movements, delighting in the contrasting moods typical of “una fantasia” and of course Beethoven himself. The coda was played with thrilling excitement, an obvious statement by Shevchenko which communicated clearly that, after 15 minutes, we had now reached our destination.
In the next work, Schumann’s Carnaval, Shevchenko’s strong technical command allowed a freedom of expression required to communicate the wide range of characters in the 20 miniatures that make up the work. Particular highlights again included the warmth of tone during quieter reflective moments, a strong underlying rhythmic pulse in the dance movements, and admirable control during moments of counterpoint. The latter was particularly magical at the close of introspective Eusebius.
After interval, it was to Russia with love. Shevchenko is a graduate of the Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory, so it was a highly anticipated second half. In Tchaikovsky’s Meditation, one of his final piano works, Shevchenko’s playing was again captivating- the final 8-bar trill in the upper register disappeared exquisitely. It was Shevchenko’s intention to hold on to this heavenly moment a while longer, however a latecomer from interval unfortunately interrupted and the mood was broken. Dumka, also by Tchaikovsky, began quietly and was relatively successful though not as emotionally satisfying as the first half.
Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition contained some of the most virtuosic playing of the night. The Promenades were taken at a fairly brisk walking pace, the speed relaxed appropriately when they reappeared in minor keys. Shevchenko seemed not to tire throughout Mussorgsky’s showpiece, the penultimate favourite “The Hut on Hen’s Legs” (Baba Yaga) was astonishingly brilliant. The tempo was very quick, the music whipped up into a frenzy. The ending was also spectacularly handled with great clarity of phrasing and flawless accuracy. The Great Gate of Kiev began somewhat underwhelmingly, but this left room for a massive build-up of sound carrying us all the way to the final chords. The music was scored in E flat major, where the evening began, the symmetry satisfying. The audience, reacting to the impressive, energetic surge to the finish, rose to their feet in applause. Shevchenko completed her most enjoyable journey, finishing with not one but two encores.
Jane Ferdinands reviewed Oxana Shevchenko on Tuesday, April 9th, at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Many thanks to the Sydney International Piano Competition and Kabuku Public Relations for organising the event and media materials!