Pianist Daria Kiseleva

By Scott MacClellandDaria-Kiseleva-virtuosi

A PARADE of remarkably talented young keyboard artists has drawn in new Monterey Bay fans over the last couple of years. The latest, 26-year-old Russian Daria Kiseleva dazzled her Aptos Keyboard Series audience on Sunday with a combination of virtuosity and artistry tossed off as if unaware she was rewriting the definition of her craft. That seemed to be the case when, accepting a standing ovation after playing Ravel’s fiercely challenging Gaspard de la Nuit, she returned immediately to the keyboard for Ginastera’s Danzas Argentinas. Kiseleva’s attention is so concentrated on her task that once in the zone she seemed oblivious to her surroundings. That’s a good thing when one is free-climbing vertical cliffs without ropes and pitons.

That was just the program’s second half. Kiseleva began with Allegro in B-flat by the 25-year-old Mozart, a fragmentary sonata-allegro which I doubt had ever been played in this region before. (The piece collected the nickname “Sophie & Constanze” after the composer’s death ten years later, naming his sister-in-law and wife who both attended his last hours. It was probably coined by Georg Nissen, Constanze’s second husband who collaborated with her in Mozart’s first biography.) In Kiseleva’s hands, Mozart’s youthful mischief was outed, but, in the development part, an unexpectedly mature drama emerged.

The audience’s appetite now whetted, Kiseleva quickly returned to the bench for a kaleidoscopic survey of Rachmaninoff’s “Corelli” Variations, for its theme the old La folia tune (which Corelli appropriated, as did many others) followed by twenty variations plus coda, and lasting an equal number of minutes. This called for and got an excess of virtuosity that, thanks to Rachmaninoff, all but overwhelmed any inherent character of the simple tune. But then La folia suggests a kind of madness anyway. Kiseleva swallowed it whole without hesitation and put herself firmly into the Monterey Bay piano firmament.

But the best was yet to come. Gaspard, considered one of the technically most difficult in the piano repertoire, is actually program music, depicting images from three poems by Aloysius Bertrand, Ondine, Le gibet and Scarbo: a water nymph who loves a mortal man, a hanged man glowing in the sunset and—in Ravel, the hardest of them to master—a nocturnal goblin. Kiseleva worked the pedals magically in the watery Ondine and managed to keep the conflicting meters and contrasting moods of Scarbo in clear focus. Tour de force is not too strong a description of her performance.

Intensity did not let up in the Ginastera dances, all three—Dance of the old herdsman, Dance of the beautiful maiden and the dissonant Dance of the ‘Arrogant gaucho’—containing Argentine folk inflections played with (mucho) gusto. The ‘maiden dance’ swung like a seductive tango while the ‘gaucho’ oozed carnival machismo. These pictures were as vividly etched and as fearless as anything on Kiseleva’s program that came before.

Called for an encore, she played Mikhail Pletnev’s transcription of the grand pas de deux from Act II of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet with extravagance, skillfully keeping the phrasing of the main melody and the accompaniment independent, which allowed for a delicious rhythmic dissonance to heighten the effect. If this flamboyance could be called over the top, no one at hand was heard to complain.