Pianist Karine Poghosyan Plays a Rare, Stunning All-Khachaturian Program
At one point early on during her Manhattan concert last night at St. Vartan’s Cathedral, a grin suddenly lit up pianist Karine Poghosyan‘s face. What she didn’t realize was that she was telegraphing a punchline. Aram Khachaturian’s music is deep, and rich, and full of life, and sometimes humor as well. This particular jestful phrase, familiar as it is to the pianist, still obviously tickles her. It’s rare to see an all-Khachaturian program in this country, let alone one of Khachaturian piano music. On the 110th anniversary of the composer’s birth, it’s impossible to imagine that he ever might have wished for a more passionate or powerful advocate than the Yerevan-born, New York based Poghosyan.
Playing from memory, she inhabited the music in all its stormy, turbulent depths, shattering staccato and ravishing sensuality, bringing her own unselfconscious sense of fun. Poghosyan’s technique is world-class, matched by a sense of dynamics that served her magnificently during this hourlong roller coaster ride. There were points where her crushing lefthand threatened to dislodge the piano’s wheels. Yet during her own tender, lustrously nuanced arrangement of the Lullaby, from Gayaneh (the ballet whose final movement is the famous Sabre Dance), she wound it down with a pianissimo that was so gentle and yet unwavering that it was as if she had placed a mute inside on the strings. And for all the pyrotechnics and foreshadowing and inside-out knowledge of the music, Poghosyan’s personal style is disarmingly honest: the audience knows exactly how she is feeling, and sometimes where the music is about to go, from just a look at her face. Whatever the score called for, she was on a mission to bring it to life: the wry depiction of a stern parent telling a child to lie down and GO TO SLEEP early in the Lullaby; several instances of uh-oh-we’re-about-to-go-over-the-cliff; and the occasional triumphant “yesssss” moment after she’d tackled a particularly knotty, rapidfire passage and made it look easy.
She began with an arrangement of one of Khachaturian’s better-known works, the Adagio from Spartacus, another ballet. A High Romantic heroic theme in a series of disguises, it’s classic Khachaturian, lush with swells and ebbs, wistfulness and pathos juxtaposed against the composer’s signature, disquieting close harmonies. Poghosyan negotiated the machinegunning, insistent chords, gritty pedalpoint and and Stravinskian bluster of the Poem (a strikingly forward-looking if deliberately ostentatious work written when the composer was 24) and the considerably more lyrical Toccata from five years later. After the Lullaby, she launched into the piece de resistance, the 1961 Piano Sonata, which was a revelation: challenging as it may be, it’s hard to believe that such a powerful piece isn’t played in concert more often. Poghosyan brought out a lingering bittersweetness early on in the opening Allegro movement that recurred with a nocturnal gleam in the second and then disappeared in favor of the sabre-toothed, interlocking chordal fury of the concluding movement, where for once she gave not the slightest hint of how enigmatically or unexpectedly it would end. Maybe she was hoping it would never end and she would keep having fun – although by the time it did, she was out of breath.
The audience responded with two standing ovations, so she gave them her arrangement of the Waltz Masquerade, reinventing it as a more of a sweeping, nostalgic ballad than heroic overture. Poghosyan is back at St. Vartan’s (34th Street and Second Avenue) at 7:30 PM on September 25 on an orchestral bill featuring music of Bach and Liszt.
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