Concert review: Sofya Gulyak at Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber

By William Dart

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Sofya Gulyak
Sofya Gulyak

What: Sofya Gulyak
Where: Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber

On Wednesday, in the penultimate concert of the New Zealand International Piano Festival, Sofya Gulyak gave a staggering demonstration of what it takes to win the Leeds Piano Competition - she carried off the prize in 2009. This was pianism on a grand scale; an all-Russian programme delivered with straight-from-the-shoulder heft.

Three popular pieces from Rachmaninov's Opus 3 set us off, the lyrical melancholy of the Elegie surviving an irritating clang on repeated low E flats. Polichinelle, its brilliance notwithstanding, could have made more of its pianissimi.

Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Corelli are not for the faint-hearted, but this Russian pianist is working on a plane from which any technical problems have been well and truly banished. Here she revealed a real musicianship. There was humour in the Minuet, its piquant asides looking forward to the Adagio misterioso of the eighth variation.

After interval, a dreamy Scriabin Poeme Op 32 no 1, with exquisitely drawn out textures, was followed by its more belligerent partner, Op 32 no 2, dashed off as if the most rudimentary of etudes.

Shostakovich's D flat Prelude and Fugue were not so happy, Gulyak bringing out a brutality that not every pianist looks for. The demonic drive of the fugue left little room for niceties of phrasing.

One suspected that Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata was what many in the audience were waiting for - and they were amply rewarded.

The outer movements were storms, tamed with the sort of sangfroid and assurance that leave one gaping. There was more humour in the second movement's acerbic march, and a languorous beauty in the waltz of the third.

Three encores were extremely generous and a terrifying zoom through a Clementi Presto made one realise why Mozart dismissed this composer as a mere technician.

After an Adagio from Bach's transcription of Marcello's Oboe Concerto, there were a few issues with Chopin's F minor Nocturne, in which an effective full-blooded climax did not make up for awkward and forced rubato earlier on.

- NZ Herald

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