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“On Saturday afternoon, April 7, 2018, at the Steinway Gallery in Coral Gables, Florida, Ukranian born pianist Anastasiya Naplekova played a stunning all-Rachmaninoff recital consisting of many seldom played, technically demanding works on Saturday in Miami. After studying with Natalia Melnikova in the Ukraine, Naplekova worked with the noted Rachmaninoff interpreter Santiago Rodriguez in Florida. The program consisted of six Rachmaninoff transcriptions, six Etudes-Tableaux from Op. 39 and the 1932 version of the Second Sonata. Reminiscent of some of the most distinguished pianists of the past, Naplekova played the piano with no physical histrionics. All of the communication was projected by her brilliant fingers, broad range of color and dynamic range.
The recital opened with Rachmaninoff’s transcriptions of Lilacs, op. 25, No. 5, the Minuet from Bizets’ L’Arlesienne and Liebesleid (Kreisler). Each was projected with soft, fluid tone. The transcriptions were followed by six of the nine Etudes-Tableaux from op. 39, which are among the last works composed before Rachmaninoff left Russia in 1917. In the Etudes, particularly in the E-flat minor, No. 5, Naplekova played with a much greater dynamic range which brought to mind encore performances by Horowitz and Cliburn, as well as the D major Etude Allegro Moderato, Tempo di Marcia (No. 9) reminiscent of Richter.
The second half began with Daisies, followed by a delightful, remarkably light performance that captured much of the delicacy of the legendary recording of Benno Moiseiwitsch of Rachmaninoff’s Mendelssohn Midsummer Nights’ Dream Scherzo (a quality that has eluded most pianists who have subsequently played the transcription). The transcription of Tchaikovsky’s soft Lullaby provided a striking preface to the brilliant performance of the 1931 version of the Second Sonata in which Naplekova projected much of the great dynamic range and drama that I recall from the November 1968 Horowitz performance of a modified version that I heard in Carnegie Hall.”
-Julian Kreeger, Peninsula Reviews
“Naplekova played the piece [Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by S. Rachmaninoff] beautifully and conquered all of its technical difficulties. Even Rachmaninoff himself occasionally said that he was afraid to play it.”
-Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, North Texas Performing Arts News
“You couldn’t mistake the Ukrainian pianist Anastasiya Naplekova, with her waist-length blonde hair. But the memory of her is not about hair, but rather her excellent performance.
Her Bach selection was the Prelude and Fugue No. 22 in B-flat minor, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, BWV 867. She used finger legato on the moving Prelude, much as an organist would do. The Fugue was completely different with its strong two-note introduction. Even though it starts distinctly, it is not easy to always identify the rest of the subject as the Fugue progresses. Naplekova did a fine job with this.
Her performance of Haydn’s Sonata in B minor No. 22 added to the impression of her as a pianist. She was very expressive all the way and relished all of Haydn’s surprises and mood changes. . . . Chopin’s Étude No. 12, Op. 25, is an endurance test as it flashes up and down the keyboard in arpeggios. The challenge, which Naplekova met, is that there is a melody hidden in all the fingerwork that has to be brought out.
Rachmaninoff’s Étude Tableau No. 2, Op. 39, has a little of everything we love about the composer’s music. There is a beautiful and peaceful melodic section that rises to some thrilling climaxes. Naplekova brought out this contrast without overplaying the big moment, which would have taken it out of context.
She ended her recital with a musical bonbon: Rachmaninoff’s arrangement— elaboration, really—of Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of a Viennese popular song, Liebesfreud (“love’s joy”). He also arranged Kreisler’s Liebesleid (“love’s sorrow”). Both of them are meant to sound improvisatory, and probably started out that way. Naplekova went for joy rather than sorrow and she played this slightly over-the-top encore-esque piece in a lighthearted music hall style . . . .”
– Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, North Texas Performing Arts News
“She took a novel approach in her programming, playing portions of several different pieces by a variety of composers. She gets one gold star for choosing a piece of contemporary music and another for programming something by a Hispanic composer: Manuel de Falla’s Cuatro piezas españolas.
She played three of the Cuatro (four) piezas (pieces). The first was Aragonesa, a name that means a specific language as well as a type of dance for couples. Naplekova accented the rhythmic drive and did a fine job of letting the piece wind down on its own at the end. The second movement, Cubana, refers to the country of Cuba. Naplekova relaxed into the natural rhythmic flow and all the tempo changes. In her hands they sounded instinctive, rather that dictated by the composer.
Naplekova omitted the third movement and went to the fourth, Andaluza, which received a very exciting reading. Her octave passages were very fast and clean and the ending faded away rather than stopping with a flourish.
Next she played the first movement, “Ondine,” from Ravel’s magnificent masterpiece for piano, Gaspard de la Nuit. Usually, performances of this work populate most recital programs in such competitions because of its combination of incredible technical demands and wonderful music. . . . The high point of the movement is a long crescendo leading to an incredible climax. She did an exceptional job of building up to that moment … .
Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of the song “Daisies” is a delightful treat, even more so because it is so rarely heard. Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Scherzo from his incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream received a marvelous performance: very light on its feet and scampering. Rachmaninoff’s arrangement of the cradle song from Tchaikovsky’s suite of Lullaby, Op. 16, No. 1, was a welcome diversion. But we soon were back to very serious music: Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 36.
This sonata exists in three versions. The original was written in 1913. The composer revised it in 1937, both simplifying and shortening the piece. Later, the famous Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz made another version that was a combination of the two. Naplekova played the 1937 version and it is impossible to think of what the 1923 version was like if this one is “simplified.”
Naplekova completely absorbed this piece; she played it like she was the one who wrote it. She took all kinds of small liberties that are usually the prerogative of a composer/performer. The listener definitively had the feeling that this performance would be different tomorrow. Her Rachmaninoff was so instinctively wonderful …”
– Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, North Texas Performing Arts News
“Best impression: Naplekova’s performance of Ravel’s impressionistic “Gaspard de la Nuit” was one of the highlights of this competition. It was memorable for the stunning washes of color she created in keyboard-panning glissandos, and the magical atmosphere she created with effortless virtuosity.”
– Janelle Gelfand, The Cincinnati Inquirer
“Anastasiya Naplekova’s performance [of Twelve Variation on a Theme by Benjamin Britten] combined requisite virtuosity with finely shaded dynamics.”
– Lawrence Budman, South Florida Classical Review
“Anastasiya Naplekova, a UM doctoral student currently studying with Santiago Rodriguez, exhibited considerable poise and assurance in assaying Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, once one of Fleisher’s showpieces. She proved more than up to the challenge, delivering a technically fluent and strongly personal performance.
Naplekova’s digital dexterity surmounted Beethoven’s pianistic hurdles with aplomb. Her light touch and softly pointed phrasing brought a dreamy, almost Chopinesque aura to the score, particularly effective in the piano’s serene response to the fierce orchestral interjections of the Adagio. When she reached the large-scale cadenza of the first movement, Naplekova cut loose, unleashing powerful pianistic thunder strokes. A touch of judicious rubato added verve to a rollicking Allegro vivace finale. Fleisher offered attentive support, the orchestral line emerging with granite-like strength and power.”
– Lawrence Budman, The Miami Herald