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It is tough to start a concert career. As a young soloist, you don't have much choice as to the halls you play in, the repertoire your management has you play, and the orchestras that consent to play with you; you take the gigs that come your way. Listening to Dudana Mazmanishvili in the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium playing Mozart's Piano Concerto K.467 with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra, I made three wishes: that she were in a hall with better acoustics, that she were playing Rachmaninoff, and that she were in better rapport with the orchestra.
This young pianist from Georgia (the country), now studying and living in Germany, displayed clean runs, used good voicing, and did not overpedal, but the clarity that should have resulted was destroyed by the murky acoustics of Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. (Check out her YouTube performance of Mozart K.453 to verify that the problem was the hall and not the soloist.) Several YouTube performances and German television interviews lead me to believe that she is more suited to the romantic and modern repertoire than to Mozart and Bach. With her strong technique and her passionate approach to the keyboard, as shown in recorded performances of romantic Bach-Busoni and Bach-Siloti transcriptions, she might have wowed us had she been playing Russian works such as the Rachmaninoff 2nd piano concerto or the Prokofiev 3rd piano concerto. But she wasn't. She was playing Mozart and it was mediocre.
Two factors - the hall and the concerto selected - were not in Ms. Mazmanishvili's control. But the third factor - her interaction with the orchestra - was up to her, and she disappointed us. Mozart's K.467 (the Elvira Madigan Concerto) conveys great emotion. But neither in the Andante nor in the outer two movements (Allegro maestoso and Allegro vivace assai) did I get a sense of Ms. Mazmanishvili's personality nor a sense of her collaborating with the other musicians. She did not put her own stamp on the concerto, nor had she negotiated a shared view with conductor Daniel Meyer. She ran through the passages perfunctorily, not making eye contact with the conductor, and expecting the orchestra to be passive accompanists and not participants in the ecstasy of this sublime music.
Daniel Meyer and the Asheville Symphony Orchestra are capable of much more, and they demonstrated it in the second half of Saturday's concert with six excerpts from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Suites 1 and 2. The selections were in a musically coherent sequence that was not the chronological sequence of the Shakespeare play. (Tybalt's death in a duel with Romeo was an effectively dramatic conclusion to the suite, even though Romeo died during an earlier excerpt.) Maestro Meyer's dynamic conducting included bowing in grief to set the orchestral tone before the heart-rending "Romeo at the Tomb of Juliet" and delivering three right hooks to finish off Tybalt. The orchestra followed Meyer's lead and embraced the music whole-heartedly. Montagues and Capulets strutted past each other. A young Juliet ran up and down scales in different keys in a giddy manner. The moon above the balcony scene became obvious in the orchestral texture. Romeo's grief spoke out through the instruments. Then Romeo reluctantly but ferociously dueled with Tybalt. This was the highlight of the evening.
Two short selections by William Walton (incidental music from the 1944 Laurence Olivier movie Henry V) and Sergei Rachmaninoff (the exquisite "Vocalise" in its orchestral version) rounded out the program. The entire concert was in celebration of Valentine's Day, so it was perhaps appropriate that at intermission I observed a young couple kissing discretely in the right-hand aisle under the overhang. And that was before they heard the marvelous Prokofiev!