Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lisitsa's Islamey - Wow

Valentina Lisitsa is a young Ukrainian pianist of superhuman powers, in the old tradition of the great romantic virtuosos, whose pyrotechnical magic was equal to their emotional fulminations. I discovered her by trolling YouTube for a recording of the Russian late romantic composer Mily Balakirev's keyboard tone poem Islamey. Lisitsa was a child prodigy in the usual mold, who was playing recitals from the age of 4. She currently resides in North Carolina, in the country.

Hearing (and seeing) her play Islamey, is like watching a demonic angel perform with a magic wand. The first version I ever heard was played by Gary Graffman, whose interpretation, though impressive and lyrical, was not nearly as no-holds-barred as Lisitsa's.

If you look at her hands as she plays, you see a graceful coordination which is beyond anything I've ever witnessed by any other classical pianist. She seems to "stroke" the keys, and the dance of her hands as she moves up and down, crossing, rising and falling, in tune with the rhythm of the piece, is simply astonishing. Islamey contains all kinds of technical problems, and many parts are quite staccato, yet despite this, her rhythmic approach never misses a beat (or a note). People with skill like this seem more than human!

She looks a little like Gwyneth Paltrow, the same pale blonde impression. Classical CD's are no longer generally available in stores, the way they once were. I'll have to look her up on the online CD market and get a couple of her recording sessions. She's purportedly has a "Rachmaninoff" affinity--natch. Just what you'd expect.

For fun, listen to this--Lisitsa playing Liszt's Grand Galop Chromatique. If you ever tried to play the piano, this should either inspire you or totally discourage you from ever doing so again. Here's her own website:

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