Classical Music Review

Russian pianist Zlata Chochieva makes triumphant debut at Miami International Piano Festival

Russian pianists are known for their big-boned, muscular playing and Zlata Chochieva is no exception. Making her debut at the Miami International Piano Festival on Saturday night, Chochieva received repeated ovations and bravos from an excited audience at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.

The winner of 10 international competitions, she offered an exhibition of the kind of playing competition juries love. Chochieva can play at the most fierce speeds with precision. She coaxes a thunderous sonority from the instrument and can roll octaves and draw out inner voicings from the music with striking clarity.

This type of full-tilt virtuosity is natural for Russian music but Chochieva also displayed a softer, more probing side, particularly in the music of Chopin. In place of the originally scheduled etudes, Chochieva opened the program with five Chopin waltzes. The Grand Valse Brilliante was a vivid demonstration of her ability to combine speed and clean articulation without impeding the music’s flow. Her tempo in the Minute Waltz brought the oft-played miniature in at a timing close to the title. Still her judiciously calibrated rubato in the central melody was closer to the romantic style of Chopin interpreters from a bygone era. In the slower waltzes, her touch was more delicate. She brought out the left-hand figurations in the C-sharp minor waltz and spun the melodic lines beautifully.

Chochieva certainly had the technique and stamina for Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, a work that can sound almost orchestral. The initial statement of the principal theme was played at a measured tread, the ensuing variations in strong contrast. Chochieva was most impressive in the rapid episodes where her fleet fingering matched the music’s impulsive spirit. At times her performance suggested the more demonic, later Schumann of Kreisleriana and Davidsbundlertanze. She definitely gave one of the fastest performances on record of the finale, and though overdriven at times, Chochieva offered an impressive performance that dared to take interpretive risks

A rare performance of Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin was the concert’s high point. Based on the melody of Chopin’s Prelude in C minor, this 1903 score is top-drawer Rachmaninoff. Lasting nearly half an hour, the work’s mood-spinning palette ranges from melancholic to brilliant and dashing. The work also challenges the player’s technical acumen to extremes which may explain its scarcity on recital programs.

Chochieva was fully in her element. She seems a natural Rachmaninoff player, coaxing a darker sound from the keyboard and reveling in the big romantic melodies. In the more playful sections, her touch was so light that she seemed to barely touch the keys and, throughout, the bass line of Chopin’s original theme was strongly imprinted.

Prokofiev’s Op. 2 Etudes is an early score mixing toccata-like velocity with the composer’s sarcastic streak. From the power-pounding opening measures to playful triplets and a finale with an almost boogie-woogie tone, Chochieva threw off all the pianistic tricks in resounding fashion. A swiftly executed encore of Chopin’s Black Key Etude (Op. 10, No. 5) concluded the evening.

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