The auguries weren't good: a Russian pianist I hadn't heard of, seemingly bent on making her name on the back of a 19th-century Norwegian female composer of whom I also hadn't heard. And when her record producer walked on to introduce - in leaden, halting English - Natalia Strelchenko's performance of the works of Agathe Backer Grondahl, plus the CD he wanted us to buy, I was ready to walk out.
But then, instead of the expected dour plodder, in skipped a pretty, little elf like a carnival Pierrette from Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du paradis. The first series of pieces was as brightly coloured as she was: fanciful, major-key children's stuff, but demanding an accomplished adult's technique. The next, "In the Blue Mountain", worked on a grander canvas, revealing echoes of Chopin, Schumann, Mussorgsky, Grieg and Liszt. And Liszt was the key, since Grondahl had, in 1883, been a pupil in his master-class in Weimar, where he had praised her work, as pianist and composer. Grondahl's music is quintessentially that of a performer-composer, radiating joy in what the fingers can achieve. But her settings of her country's folk-dances are also quintessentially Norwegian - cheerful, un-ironic, suggesting the purity of air and water. Whether this music is "great" is irrelevant: it's extremely good and belongs in the general repertoire.
For the second half of her recital, Strelchenko tackled Liszt's awesome "Transcendental Studies". This diminutive creature had a big sound, but here it became titanic. Liszt expected his pupils to make light of physical difficulties: though the St Petersburg-trained Strelchenko was easily capable of surmounting all obstacles in her path, she chose to dramatise her challenges with mock-heroic gestures. If her opening was a bit splashy, and "Feux Follets" did not quite attain the requisite ethereal brilliance, her "Mazeppa" was Herculean, and her "Harmonies du soir" had a dreamy majesty: everything was infused with her gutsy theatricality.
There were no dainty encores: instead, this brave trouper delivered two of these punishing works again, better than the first time round. Then, with a quick, merry smile, she turned on her heel and skipped out of sight. Bewitched as though by a miraculous child, how could I not buy her record?Reuse content