For the better part of a half century, Pro Musicis has concentrated on discovering the young and exceptionally gifted, then going on to assist them in launching their professional careers. Not stopping there, the organization has generated a benevolent presence through its awardees, reaching out to the incarcerated, infirmed, and indigent, alike.
At age 25, American-born Tanya Gabrielian was one of four pianists who won the 2008 Pro Musicis International Award. So it was under the auspices of this organization that Gabrielian came to Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music in Cambridge, on Saturday, March 21st.
With an early jump on music (starting the piano at three), diplomas from London’s Royal Academy of Music, appearances with orchestras-among them the Los Angeles Philharmonic-a tour in Scotland with its Royal National Orchestra, and recitals spotting the globe, Gabrielian appears to be well on her way. Even so, a glance at the program instantly suggests the pianist might be taking a sporting chance of success, choosing unfamiliar faces and places, Tigran Mansurian, from Armenia, for one.
For another, an infrequently heard Sonata No. 2 of Russian Alfred Schnittke screams out relentlessly, relief coming only momentarily from short-lived consonance. Finding his own voice in “polystylism,” Schnittke, like so many other 20th-century composers, takes to dissonance like a kid to candy. Where a Schubert cadence neatly punctuates, his detonates with a fist-like, or forearm-like, blow to the keyboard.
Curiously, “twelve fateful strikes” in Schnittke’s catastrophic sonata reverberate in a composition by another Russian, Sophia Gubaidulina, her devastating Quasi hoquetus just recently performed in Boston. Young Gabrielian revealed her exceptional temperament for piano but not for this dark side of the world. A controlled surface she created belied catastrophe, anger and pain, the core of the sonata. Nor was there true relief through an impersonal consonance.
Mikhail Glinka’s The Lark, from A Farewell to St. Petersburg arranged by Mili Balakirev, suited Gabrielian’s polished pianism. Her deft and sensitive left-hand accompaniment lifted the cantabile melody into a place few pianists have reached. Fast passages took off flying in improvisatory fashion. Downplaying the “good byes” for the lark side of this early ground-breaking Russian music gave a brilliance that was at times breathtaking.
In his notes on the program, Dr. Richard E. Rodda aptly describes Tigran Mansurian’s “Nostalgia (1976) as “brief, delicate and deeply introspective.” This is a kind of “night piece” where assorted objects cut into a silent backdrop. It was unfortunate that Gabrielian made more of the former and less of the latter, taking away a good part of the longing while leaving too much pianism. Appreciation must be shown her for her introducing this previously unknown nugget.
Tanya Gabrielian’s love for the piano permeated Béla Bartók’s Out of Doors and Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, no 16 Op. 42 D 845. Her utter control of the keyboard is undeniable as the young hopeful showed over and over again, but the piano alone cannot tell the whole story. Watching her, one could not help but notice facial expressions that, though connecting physically with her playing, communicated little about the music. An unannounced and unfamiliar encore sported the same likenesses drawing from the bewildered audience a polite, if not faint, applause.