ON SEPTEMBER 20 the new, much needed, Aptos Keyboard Series presented its second recital—by 22-year-old Ukraine-born pianist Anna Dmytrenko, at the large, comfortable, quiet, easily accessed Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church in Aptos. The first concert took place in May and stuffed the home of composer and series director Josef Sekon, Cabrillo College faculty member for some 25 years. Anna insisted on seeing some of Sekon’s piano music and chose to include two of his pieces on the program, along with music by J.S. Bach, Scriabin and Brahms, followed by two encores, the second one an absolute stunner that left the already enthusiastic audience in awe.
This reviewer had last been at Saint Andrew in 1999, when the restored 1904 Steinway B sounded great in the near-perfect live resonance of the church as it did so again under the very capable, mature hands of our pianist.
Anna began her studies in Ukraine at age five, moved with her family to Delaware in 2004, was admitted to the Prep Division of Juilliard, recently received her Bachelor of Piano from the Royal Academy in London and currently studies at the University of the Arts in Berlin with Pascal Devoyon. She began with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Minor from Book 1 of the Well Tempered Klavier. Immediately the sweet, resonant sounds shone forth in the prelude; the fugue was realized with a perfectly controlled intensity, amazingly profound, its volume building from pianissimo to fortissimo.
Had we not read that Scriabin’s Fantasie in B minor, Op. 28 (1900) came next, many of us would have sworn it was Rachmaninoff, quite unlike Scriabin’s earlier continuations of Chopin or his later mystic-psychedelic works. But we loved the romantic lushness, often with big sounds, but always under control, passionate and showy. The audience was ecstatic during this sonic workout that tested many limits of both piano and performer.
As at Joe and Maria Davico Sekon’s modest home where the inaugural concert in this new series had sprung forth like Bottticelli’s Venus from her seashell, we were treated again to two Sekon world premieres, quite different from each other. The first was Clepsydra from 2008, whose name in Greek means “water thief,” relative to ancient Chinese water clocks, and here to a chiaroscuro beginning with random notes, then a repeated series of notes, exquisite trilling, big chords then single water drops, all in very tricky timing and most tantalizing. More down to Earth was Sekon’s 2009 Grafite, the title like all of his with fascinating multi-meanings. This one was much more angular and solid, with an actual message, the graffiti: “HUNGER” that concludes Davico’s poem of the same title. Dmytrenko clearly understood these demanding works.
The big piece was tremendous, both in size and in performance. Brahm’s Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5 was composed when he was only 20 and it would be his last in the form. The five-movement work demanding about 40 minutes was to these ears a tour de force of all the composer’s interests and skills, almost a suite instead of a sonata. It began with a big ballad, two voices talking as in the composer’s Opus 10 take on the story of Edward. Lots of slow yearning and some arguing, typical of the young Brahms. The second movement was a soft singing line, actually set to a poem about moonlight and two hearts united. It is sad, but it leads right into a rousing waltz, like one of Brahms’ own Liebeslieder with their Gypsy elements. In the fourth movement we were back with two voices talking. The glorious final section sparkled with elements of a march, fugue fragments and a deep, strong conclusion whose difficulties were handled with ease by this fine artist.
The first encore was a mild ‘prelude’ by Abram Chasins, the 1940s director of the NYC classical station WQXR, whose airwaves recently carried the sounds of Anna Dmytrenko, who has performed not only in Carnegie Hall and around the world, but now in Aptos. Then what came last was totally and tonally unexpected: what must be the final movement of Rodion Shchedrin Piano Sonata (1962), a stunning rondo toccata, a light-hearted spoof of piano schools and styles including Prokofiev, Liszt and lots of others. This super-virtuosic display was tossed off with an absolute ease of fury.
We can hardly wait for the next in the Aptos Keyboard Series. And to Josef Sekon: keep your new works coming, we want to hear more of your evanescent and near-ineffable compositions.