MALCOLM MILLER attends a special piano recital at
Wigmore Hall-18 April 2001

The music of the Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1875-1911) is little known by pianists let alone audiences, and it was thus a special treat to hear a selection performed by one of the few specialists, Lithuanian pianist Mûza Rubackyté, at London's Wigmore Hall on 18 April 2001. Ciurlionis was a Renaissance man in that he combined the careers of painter and composer, and became a symbol of Lithuanian culture at the cusp of the 20th century, the period of the first independent state. It was thus apt to feature his solo piano music, of which Miss Rubackyté has recorded two CDs (on the Marco Polo label). Miss Rubackyté, who won first prize in the Budapest Competition in 1981, has received much acclaim for her Liszt interpretations (she has recorded three CDs on the Lyrinx label). Currently resident in Paris, she has extended her specialisms in Ciurlionis and Liszt to include French music, which formed the first half of an imaginative 20th century programme performed with panache.
Debussy's Suite Bergamasque was the bold opener, its ravishing palette projected with sensitivity to the layers of texture and evocative harmonic idiom. Her attractive tonal palette emerged especially in the luminescent Clair de Lune, Debussy's textural polyphony articulated within a velvety tone, as also in 'Première communion de la Vierge' from Messiaen's Vingt Regards, with its delicately flitting birdcalls, and resonant chord progressions. One could trace the influence of Ravel's Oiseaux Tristes on Messaien in her evocative account that highlighted the hovering harmonies. Similarly in Alborada, where a curious clarity of gesture intermingled with more evanescent effects, swooping harp glissandi, decorative turns, slightly piquant harmonies, which coalesced into a canvas of refined colours. If occasionally Miss Rubackyté was too hard edged, plucking out melodic lines brusquely rather than smoothly, but this was particularly well suited to the extrovert Three Etudes Op 52 (1, 2 and 6) by Saint-Saëns, seldom played works which Miss Rubackyté brought off with bravura. Whilst somewhat banal in places, there is much to enjoy in these works, the suave lyricism of the second Etude and almost burlesque extravagance of the final Etude. The performance was a tour de force.
Two Nocturnes and Three Preludes by Ciurlionis formed a fascinating sample of an oeuvre that deserves wider airing; The style blends melodic yearning, hints of folk music, and contrasts of poetry and turmoil, strongly reminiscent of Rachmaninov and Scriabin. Yet if sometimes texturally uneven, there is considerable expressive character and individuality in these vivid, eloquent miniatures. The climax was Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata, a fiery interpretation that unleashed forceful energy and driving rhythms, the thematic complexity projected with insight and power, and a profoundly expressive slow movement, and fizzing finale. It affirmed Miss Rubackyté's strident and incisive style and affinity for Russian music, again demonstrated in her second encore -- following some beautifully cantabile, though over romanticised Bach -- of an exhilarating 'moto perpetuo' by Shchedrin, received with suitably enthusiastic applause.
(Miss Rubackyté's visit to the UK included a concert première of the chamber version of Beethoven's 4th piano Concerto at the Mill Hill Music Club ).