Marianna Humetska @ Gallery 345 reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Tuesday, March 24, Gallery 345, Toronto.

Marianna Humetska has a powerful pair of hands that made something magical out of Ravel’s “Oiseaux Tristes”. Ravel himself described this earliest of his piano solos for Miroirs (1904-05) as a work that evokes “birds lost in the torpor of a very sombre forest, during the hottest hour of summertime.” There is a Keatsian ripeness to the work that Ms. Humetska brought out, as if she were making the vibrations of Ravel’s sombre forest resound in the wood of the Steinway. Ms. Humetska’s articulation of Ravel’s initial slowly dropping single notes conveyed the otherworldly atmosphere of a Japanese ghost print.

Her playing of the wild and free “Aubade of the Jesters” (also from Miroirs) that Ravel introduced to a meeting of Parisian Apaches in 1905 simply rocked. Ms. Humetska smiled as she tore through Ravel’s sensual Spanish flamenco rhythms, redolent of guitars and castanets. This was a welcome recovery from the nervousness that rushed her articulation of the evening’s opening piece, Bach’s Italian Concerto. This difficult work transcribed for piano from a two-keyboard instrument gives solo inventions to the right hand and orchestral contrasts to the left. It makes further interpretive demands because of the subtly mocking irony that Bach reflects onto the ‘Art Galant’ style that was becoming popular. While Ms. Humetska’s energy seemed to overwhelm some of the subtleties of the work, losing some of the dynamic contrasts, she did catch the wonderful melody of the ‘Presto’ as well as the agility of its dancing rhythms.

The major work of the evening was Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, written in 1834 and revised in 1852.  Like the variations of Beethoven and Chopin, this work is based on a borrowed theme Schumann uses as a musical cell that he transforms freely in exploring his path of polyphonic complexity and technical possibilities for piano writing. As the grave, minor key theme moves through its dirge-like opening variation, Ms. Humetska rolls the following Nocturne into a staccato Vivace, driving Schumann’s neurotic emotionality with great vehemence towards a painful edge. This she explores in the darkest tones of the keyboard during the eleventh variation, and finishes by rousing the mood skywards in a jubilant triumphal Allegro. She also shared her obvious enjoyment of the lovely melody and flambouyant colours of Schumann’s love song Widmung.

Encores were much in demand, and Ms. Humetska generously gave two—all of them sonically surprising—including a passionate arrangement by Mikhail Pletnev of selections from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and some Bach that sounded like it was arranged by Chick Corea and played by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Ms. Humetska, who lives in the Ukraine, is going on tour of Eastern Europe with Michael Pepa and Les AMIS Concerts. Whenever she comes back, let us hope she plays again in Edward Epstein’s Gallery 345, the most elegant salon setting in Toronto.

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