The Department of Music of Meredith College hosted a recital by visiting pianist Yukiko Sekino, who is based in Boston, with an excellent resume which includes study at both the Juilliard School and Harvard University. Her solo program on the Steinway grand at the Carswell Concert Hall included contrasting works by Scarlatti, Mozart, Scriabin, and Schumann.
Scarlatti, much more so than other eighteenth-century keyboard masters, seems to have remained in the domain of the piano (unlike Bach, for example, where pianists seem to be properly on the defensive in transcribing his works for the modern instrument), perhaps because Scarlatti, spending almost his entire career in Iberia, created works far from the usual styles and genres of the harpsichord literature elsewhere. Sekino demonstrated admirable dexterity and control in the second sonata of the pair, K. 516-517, which she took molto presto.
Mozart's Sonata in C, K. 309 followed, and here I wished that her masterful control would have led to an artistically freer rendition, particularly in the area of phrasing and rubato. I also had the sense that the instrument was a hindrance, since the tone it emitted in the hall seemed rather muffled at lower dynamics, without an attractive edge until forte or so. Sekino did not convince that Steinway, rather than a period fortepiano, is the most expressive choice for this literature.
She seemed much more at home in the late Romantic effusions by Scriabin which closed the first half – seven of the twenty-four preludes comprising op. 11, from the 1890s. Here she demonstrated an excellent singing line in the right hand, and a free left, but still I felt that she fell short of really approaching the true, wild and perfumed exoticism of these works. Everything was too square, with no chances taken in rubato, phrasing, or extremes. Scriabin might be viewed as the Chopin of the transition from Romantic to modernity but the expression should verge on the psychedelic, on mystic religion. Sekino must learn to dare.
The entire second half was devoted to the large set of Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13, of Robert Schumann, an early work (from Schumann's twenty-fourth to twenty-seventh years), and one which in some ways recalls the Goldberg Variations in size and variety, being based on a rather simple melody, which is then subjected to seventeen variations. An artist must be able to sustain the audience's attention throughout this whole span, and find a strong characterization for each of the sections. Sekino was not quite up to the task, particularly since she chose to program the work on the second half, when listeners' attentions might already be flagging. Pianistically she seemed more successful in the lighter, more staccato, less dense moments than in the big bangs. One could visibly see her pleasure when she arrived at the final variation – I would wish that she had the same level of engagement throughout. The playing may be hard work, but it must seem effortless.
Note: This program will be repeated on April 11 in Greenville. For details, see our calendar.