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Incandescent Dialogues with the Piano


Yukiko Sekino performed Debussy, Scriabin, Beethoven and Ravel in the 11th recital of the 2023 concert series for Chinese Performing Arts at Williams Hall this Monday.  The Gold Medalist of the 2006 Russian Music Piano Competition and a soloist numbers appearances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, among her countless noteworthy achievements.

Beyond creating music, one senses that she communicates with the piano, discovering the notes, nuances and colors as she played, listening to the instrument with intense concentration. She began the Debussy restrained, almost shy, like on a first date, full of anticipation but also trepidation, with the Cloches à travers les feuilles (Bells through the leaves) sounding plaintive and languid. Continuing with Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut (And the moon descends on the temple that was), she merged with the tableau, her night-blue dress sparkling with the glittering palettes of a star-studded sky, the white piano keys moonbeams, her playing the temple. La lune descend sur le temple evokes Indonesian gamelan music, which famously influenced Debussy. In Poissons d’or (Golden fish), the piscatorial landscape came alive, swirling, splashing, delighting both pianist and audience.

The colors of Debussy gave way to Scriabin’s luscious melodies in selections from the Preludes Opus 11 (Nos. 1, 2, 8, 11, 12,13, and 14). Scriabin obviously took his inspiration from Chopin’s famous Preludes. Identical key signatures and general tempo markings show similar plans across the sets. Sekino voiced them beautifully, and handled the difficult, wide-ranging LH arpeggios with ease.

Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata (1804) challenges pianists, and the length, with many repeated notes and themes, causes the audience’s attention to drift. Sekino’s interpretation held our attention throughout; her transitions masterful, she built suspense and surprises. We relished her pearly and lightning-fast scales, clear arpeggios, and the countless octaves which mostly achieved clean landings. The precision of the repeated notes and tremolos of the first movement gave way to the quiet mystery of the Introduzione: Adagio molto, and the joy and daringly fast scales that built to a climax in the Rondo. We watched Sekino with pleasure as her gestures had the grace of a dancer. At times she caressed the keys, at times she lored over the instrument. She played Beethoven’s broken octaves and big chords with gusto and total abandon, causing the audience to explode into thunderous applause and cheers after the final note. 

Ravel’s Miroirs , a very atmospheric masterpiece in five movements, occupied the second half. Ravel is notoriously hard to interpret, his considerable virtuosity having to appear natural and un-studied. Noctuelles (Night Moths) consists of notes that create a random, erratic beauty, full of surprises. Sekino transitioned beautifully from the bright opening to the wonderful dark color changes mid-piece. Oiseaux Tristes (Sad Birds) mimic mournful birdsongs that convey the brokenness of sad spirits. Une barque sur l’océan (A Boat on the Ocean) projected at once the solidity of the boat and the fluidity of the ocean. She appeared to drift in the ocean alongside the notes, flowing over the keyboard, producing small swirls and huge waves that crest and ebb. Alborada del gracioso” (Morning Song of the Jester) is frequently heard with full orchestration. While simultaneously comic and tragic, it mimics a fast Spanish dance, with insanely fast repeating notes. Sukino’s hands seemed take flight. La vallée des cloches (The Valley of Bells), with its soft bells and glissandos proved utterly hypnotic. A long silence descended over the house as if no one wished to awaken from this beautiful dream.

Sukino encored with the Scriabin Poème Opus 32 No. 1. At once dreamy and passionate, it nodded once more to the Russian composer who celebrated his 150-year anniversary last year.

Sibylle Barrasso is a long-time piano student of Robert Poli. She has played in piano competitions in Pickman Hall and Chicago, is on the board of directors of the Boston Piano Amateurs Association, and has played for audiences in the Boston Symphony Cafe since 2010.

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