Concert by pianist Valentina Seferinova, Petersfield 2012-10-06

7 Oct

Petersfield lies some 20 miles north of Portsmouth. A fine Art Deco style Festival Hall was built there in 1936 and this was the venue for last night’s concert by pianist Valentina Seferinova. Ms Seferinova is from Bulgaria but moved the UK in her late thirties; she lives near Portsmouth with her husband and son, lecturing in music and teaching piano at South Downs College.

Her programme included popular favorites by Debussy, Chopin and Rachmaninov and lesser-known works by Bulgarian and Polish composers. She prefaced each piece with short, and informative explanation, thus preparing and stimulating the audience intellectually as well as musically. The programme was carefully thought out and sequenced, with seasonal and water-related themes interlinking the pieces.

The evening opened with ‘en Automne’ from op. 29 ‘Impressions’ by the Polish composer Zygmunt Noskowski. The sounds of autumn, including wind and rain, are delightfully explored in this piece (thankfully the weather outside was calm and fine).

This was followed by Chopin’s Fantasie in F Minor, Op 49. Murmurs of recognition from the audience on hearing the opening lines changed to knee-tapping as the joyous march theme pumped out.

One thing this concert highlighted for me is the profound nature of Chopin’s influence on later composers. That on Debussy and Rachmaninov, both featured last night, is well known, but it also shone through other works featured in the programme.

The next pieces were by Debussy: the First Arabesque, followed by two Preludes, Book I: “La fille aux Cheveux de Lin” and “La Cathédrale Engloutie”. Ms Seferinova’s playing combines flawless technical skill with original interpretation and a most attractive delicacy of touch. She clearly studies scores in great depth, resulting in unexpected elements of the composer’s intention being highlighted to great effect. This was certainly the case with both the Preludes, the former enhanced by the lightest of musical brush-strokes and the latter by the ethereal ringing of the cathedral bell in the right hand, cleverly brought out from the surrounding melody. Also in the latter, the full power of the mighty crescendo-ritardando to C in the bass was fully realised, the slightly-built pianist occasionally rising from her seat as if to gravity-assist the delivery of the bigger chords. The catharsis of this piece seemed to release another level of excellence in Valentina as Part 1 of the concert concluded with a dazzling rendering of “L’Isle Joyeuse”.

Part II opened with two pieces by possibly the foremost of Bulgarian composers, Pantcho Vladigerov. In these, Elégie d’Automne (continuing the seasonal theme) and Humoresque , both from Op 15, as well as in the works of Veselin Stoyanov (Nocturne) and Ludomir Róźycki (Balladyna, Op. 25) that followed, we enjoyed an introduction to a rich corpus of modern Slavic composition, less musically challenging on the ear than, for example, Bartók but in the hands of Ms Seferinova, fully satisfying aesthetically, and most enjoyable. If you come across these composers and haven’t heard them before, be prepared for a pleasant surprise.

Two of Rachmaninov’s Morceaux de Fantasie, Op 3, sandwiched between the modern Slavics, completed our programme with the unfailing spiritual and emotional appeal of that most excellent of Russian pianists and composers.

Valentina’s encore was a very moving romantic piece by the 19thC German-Swiss composer Joachim Raff. I for one shall be downloading this as soon as I can ascertain what it was!

Overall impressions? There were frequent moments of concentrated silence during the concert, that rarified space where a large group of music lovers focus mentally and spiritually on great art. This testified to the pianist’s outstanding performance ability as well as to the audience’s musical sensibilities. And just as we constantly discover new and old compositions that stand equal in worth to those that fill the popular repertoire but fail to enjoy their prominence, so occasionally we find pianists whose relative obscurity belies their excellence. Both were in evidence last night and I think most of the audience would agree that we were hearing pianism of a high order. As a live performer she definitely ranks, in my opinion, alongside or above some of the most popular international pianists.

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