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It was an evening that crowned the most magnificent day so far in the early fall. Seldom does one hear as much masterly pianism as occurred in Stewart Theatre on the NCSU campus. Hosted by NC State University piano professor Olga Kleiankina and featuring three other widely acclaimed pianists. The presentation was the first of two editions of "The Chopin Project," celebrating the bicentennial of the composer’s birth with a substantial sampling of his works. (The second part was planned for less than twenty-four hours later.)
Kleiankina chose Nocturne in E minor, Op. 72, No. 3 to open the proceedings. While this one is not the most “nocturnal” of that numerous set, it demanded the highest from her eminent skills and made for an excellent introduction to the evening. She followed with a lilting and somewhat hurry-up reading of Waltzes Op. 69, No. 1 in B minor and No. 2 in A-flat.
Some of Chopin’s most melodious themes were featured in the “big” work of the program, the set of four Ballades. The pianist here was Arthur Greene, whose honors are manifold, including Gold Medals for winning the William Kapell and Gina Bachauer International piano competitions. He has been featured in recordings on the Supraphon and Naxos labels. It would suffice to mention just the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, since a discussion of it would tend to apply to the others. A student of these works has suggested that they consist of the composer’s fantasies on Polish ballads. The first leads off with an appealing theme that recurs throughout. Marbled within are some of the stormiest passages in Chopin’s body of work, adamant agitato and blustering presto con fuoco. The others, particularly the No. 4 in F minor, seem to behave similarly. Given Greene’s facility with these pieces, one no longer needs to dream about Cliburn or Pennario or Rubenstein or…
University of Northern Iowa faculty member Dmitri Vorobiev, a native of Moscow, is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts, and the Manhattan and the University of Michigan schools of music. He offered the Waltz in A-flat and a piece called “Allegro de Concert, Op.46,” the latter unfamiliar to most of the audience (or at least one of the members). He explained its probable genesis, one widely held opinion being that Chopin had originally meant it for the basis of a potential third concerto. Its dozen or so minutes’ duration showed a Lisztian quality, with its kinship to Chopin’s better-known output not immediately obvious. Vorobiev, with a technique of the highest order, seemed at ease with its considerable demands.
A touch of irony crept into the program at its closing: The set of twenty-four Preludes, Op. 28, were used at the “wrong” end of the evening. (Call the set a “prelude” to the second half coming up the next day.) Svetlana Smolina, a native of Nizhny-Novgorod, Russia, studied with Arthur Greene at the University of Michigan. Her honors are numerous and impressive. She has performed in Carnegie Hall and has recorded on the Decca/Philips label. Her apparent mastery of the keyboard was what one might expect from an international recitalist and former student of Greene. In an imposing display of memorization and proficiency, she negotiated all twenty-four of the miniatures. While that was a good many Preludes for audience and performer at one sitting, she was equal to their demands, and the hearers made known their approval.
Olga Kleiankina is to be commended for such an ambitious and successful venture as "The Chopin Project." Its educational and artistic excellence is palpable. Even the setting was ideal, “not a bad seat in the house.” But the patrons are well advised to memorize the printed program and explanatory notes. Once the proceedings are underway, the stage management consistently casts the audience into a degree of darkness that would rival Erebus.