Irina Kulikova Recital Review
The concert given by Irina Kulikova at the Club on 17th Feb 2007 was eagerly awaited by those of us who had heard her at West Dean in 2005. It was clear to us then that she was a rising star amongst the new generation of virtuosos.
Not for her a safe, easy start! She hurled herself into the virtuosic Sonatina Meridional by M. Ponce. This work with its fast passagework, especially in the last movement, owes much to the flamenco tradition and Irina succeeded in making the virtuosity an integral part of her interpretation, rather than an end in itself. The beauty of her richly resonant, cello-like thumb strokes in the second movement occurred again throughout the evening and will remain one of the most memorable things about the concert. They made her Simon Marty guitar sing.
The well-known La Catedral by A. Barrios showed to perfection the essence of Irena's art. She induced in her audience a stunned silence as she invited us into the religious world of the first two movements. Her singing tone up in the highest positions was of an intensity almost too beautiful to bear. The final movement by contrast showed Irina's incredible virtuosity. The fast arpeggios were played with scarcely a note out of place.
She ended the first half with Legnani's Fantasia, a piece of less musical value, but an opportunity to dazzle with her technique. Her playing of fast octave passages did not go un-noticed by those among us in the audience who attempt this technique and fail miserably. Unfortunately a lapse of memory caused her to falter and to have to refer hurriedly to her music, which broke the spell. It was surprising that a soloist of her talent needed to have her music close to hand, which creates a barrier between player and audience.
Sonata by A. Jose, which opened the second half, makes passing reference to the works of Debussy and Ravel and Irina gave it a beautifully shaped interpretation. With eyes often closed and with her body gently swaying, she produced in the Pavana Triste those velvety tasto sounds, which, with her beautifully timed rubatos, mark her out as a very special player. The final movement contained fast passagework, ringing campanellas and savage rasguados, judged to perfection.
Autumn Song, a simple and beautiful arrangement by V. Chlopovsky (one of her teachers), of a piece by Tchaikovsky was rich like an autumnal poem by Keats or Rilke and was played in a way only a Russian can respond to Russian composers! This made me think of a comment I once heard from a fine player, who told me, "Everybody knows I can do the flashy stuff. It's when I play slowly that an audience can see whether I can really play or not." How true this is of Irina!
But the "flashy stuff" was on display again in her last piece, Fantasia Hongroise, by J.K. Mertz. Her virtuosity here was breathtaking - rich cello sounds and furiously quick arpeggios, tempered by rubatos totally true to nineteenth century Austro-Hungarian style. A real crowd pleaser!
Her two encores, Waltz No. 4 by A. Barrios and Sound of Bells by Pernambuco were warmly appreciated by the vociferous audience and summed up the strengths of Irina's playing - marvellous technical accuracy, a warm tone, a well judged sense of the music and a passionate intensity, bordering on savagery, when the music demands it.
Her concert was another triumph in this season's series.