14. 02. 2011

Kieler Nachrichten (Christian Strehk)


Anika Vavic: Impressive Pianistic Calling Card

The Serbian Pianist Anika Vavic has everything one needs these days for a career: dazzling looks, charm and technical brilliance. Much more important (and rare!), however, is her stupendous creative intelligence and expressivity. The recital CD produced in her adopted hometown of Vienna sends sparks of energy and wit flying, but never lacks intimate profundity either.

This starts with Beethoven's Sonata in D-Major Op. 10 No. 3. The first movement's waves of energy, the sudden eruptions and interspersed question marks are optimally staged. What is particularly remarkable, however, for a pianist born in 1975 is the profound seriousness with which the "Largo e mesto" is sung in every nuance and shadow. It is unusual to hear so much pain in the "early" Beethoven of 1798.

Small wonder that in the CD booklet, Vavic with her literary interests points to the possible extra-musical reference to the death of the figure Klärchen in Beethoven's Egmont. And equally small wonder that the Serbian has always been inspired and advised by artists who share her passion for never considering music a shallow enjoyment: Elisabeth Leonskaja, for example, or Oleg Maisenberg.

However, the witty enjoyment of Beethoven's surprising ideas is not given short shrift, as the two following movements show. Even a pianist like Barenboim seems a bit harmless and aesthetic in comparison. The approach is more reminiscent of Friedrich Gulda - making us realize that pianists today are always aware of the rhetorically honed "music-as-speech" of Harnoncourt's historic performance revolution at the back of their heads, even when playing a Steinway grand.  

Anyone, however, who chooses Robert Schumann's fantasies Kreisleriana Op. 16 for his CD calling card must be willing to be measured against another giant: Wilhelm Kempff. In keeping with the literary background (E. T. A. Hoffmann's Lebensansichten des Katers Murr), Kempff starts off No. 1 rather more whimsically, with bulkier accents. In his approach, it becomes very obvious why Clara Schumann first thought that the work Robert had presented to her in 1838 as a new kind of cornerstone of romantic piano music was "revoltingly confused". Vavic, however, holds her own, and her interpretation - emotionally touching, highly poetic and yet pianistically generous and brilliant - points to the work's dedicatee, Fréderic Chopin, instead. As if to make the point, the CD features the Ballad in A-flat-Major Op. 47 which the Polish composer, in his Paris exile, sent back as a half-hearted token of gratitude. Thus, Vavic's Kreisleriana becomes an intriguing alternative recording - much more than the elegantly straightened new recording by her young American colleague Jonathan Biss.

This is even true of the "lyrical eccentricity" of the Fantasy No. 6 - Joachim Kaiser was rightfully fascinated by Wilhelm Kempff's interpretation, praising its "magical stillness" as "a profound dream of the blue flower" [the symbol of Romanticism]. Anika Vavic's approach is less calm, more unstable and full of contrasts, but she "tells" her own story in it, eventually finding her way to Kempff-like rapturous contemplation. She has the measure of the neo-baroque Bach-mania in No. 7 much more pointedly and with more fiery adroitness than Biss and Kempff. And idiosyncratically, in No. 8 she lets the highest note reverberate in the staccato descant range - thus placing it in context with the independent legato ruminations of the bass.

Finally, Vavic has also found room for an attractive encore on her CD, pointing to another literary horizon in the shape of Leo Tolstoy: Prokofiev's shady waltz from the opera epos War and Peace is a seductive treasure, served with a great deal of sophistication. It illustrates why the pianist enjoys good contacts in Russia and why a musician like Valery Gergiev likes to perform with her.

Anika Vavic, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Prokofiev. Gramola Vienna CD 98889 (Codaex).

[ original article ]

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