Kislenko’s piano is exhilarating!

Queen of Arts

By LAURA LEIGH MONTEREY

Welcomed in concert halls around the world, Natasha Kislenko returned to Ridgecrest to play at First Presbyterian Church last Sunday. Making a demure entrance in concert black, Natasha brought us into her world and the music of the evening with introductory background.

Without much ado, she perched on the upholstered piano bench, took a moment to reacquaint with her instrument – a Kawai grand with a lovely tone – then leaned into her first piece.

The program for the evening was from the canon of classical composers – Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. What a blessing!

As it turned out, all Natasha’s selections were variations, that is, interpretations that the composers made of the works of others. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart started us off with piano variations on “Salve tu, Domine,” by Paisiello, KV398. Playing without printed music, Natasha played with great expression and even some temperament. Responding to the music with the subtle gestures common to pianists, she made it evident that the music was as transporting to her as it was to us.

Frederic Chopin’s “Souvenir de Paganini” followed. Parts of this were so movingly beautiful, I could have wept. Playing delicately, sympathetically, Natasha gave Chopin the honor due to his brave explorations that nonetheless remained true to his own style and vision. “This was my favorite piece,” said Jerry Brooks, who attended with his wife, Celesta Brooks, a well-respected local piano teacher. She commented that her expectations were fulfilled with “music that was played with dexterity, fluency, and gracefulness.”

Next, Natasha dove into “Variations on a theme of Corelli, Opus 42” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, which exhibited richness in every way – dynamics, tempo, breadth. This gregarious piece brought Natasha out of her seat more than once, so energetic is it. Surprisingly, I think I heard a couple of jazzy stretches.

She finished the first half of the concert with an impromptu addition to the program, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Lullaby,” Opus 16, as arranged by Rachmaninoff, the composer in whom she has chosen to specialize. There wasn’t much here to put one to sleep. It was simply excellently lovely.

As usual, the Ridgecrest Chamber Music Society, which hosted the concert, provided an excellent spread of refreshments. Over coffee at intermission, I had a chance to chat with some concert-goers. Sherri Rosenberg loved the Mozart piece best. “But then, of course I would! I mean, I named my dog Mozart!” Her husband, Don, was right behind, loving it all. I left them waxing rhapsodic about Vienna and Salzburg.

When Fran Rogers, concert coordinator and emcee, flashed the lights to get us to wrap up our cookies and conversations, we all returned to the hall for the second half, which was completely filled with Tchaikovsky’s “Seasons,” Opus 37A. This string of 12 compositions was commissioned by Nikolai Bernard, the publisher of the magazine, The Novelliste.

One composition was published each month for a year. As Natasha moved through the seasons, any number of images could come to mind, sometimes guided by apropos titles, as with “Carnival” for February, or “Barcarolle” for June. Other times, your flight of fancy was as good as anyone else’s. Are those thunderclouds on the horizon or the cavalry coming over the hill?

In any case, the audience awarded Natasha with an unhesitating standing ovation, which she graced with an encore of “Hopak” out of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Soropinsky Fair,” as transcribed by Rachmaninoff. Natasha put everything into this very vigorous composition that once again brought her out of her seat as she leaned into some of the more uncompromising stretches.

Exhilarating, indeed!

Story First Published: 2019-12-13