CLEVELAND, Ohio — Despite its hybrid nature — half piano recital and half chamber concert — Sunday afternoon’s presentation by the Cleveland International Piano Competition of 2016
winner Nikita Mndoyants was a wholly successful and thoroughly satisfying experience, thanks in no small part to repertoire.
A pianist who has been performing publicly since he was eight years old, Mndoyants came to his CIPC triumph following a hiatus in which he withdrew from competition to concentrate on keyboard studies, but also to spend more time with his other calling, composition. Since 2013 he’s been on the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory, as a teacher of orchestration.
As a performing artist, Mndoyants eschews flamboyance at the keyboard, instead concentrating his considerable energy into dynamic interpretations of the repertoire.
On the first half of the program at the Maltz Performing Arts Center, Mndoyants gave a preview of his upcoming Carnegie Hall recital in June, with two works from that program: Beethoven’s Opus 126 Bagatelles and Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major. (At Carnegie Hall, Mndoyants will also play Schumann’s “Davidsbundlertanze” and his own “Variations on a Theme by Paganini.”)
The second half of the concert recalled Mndoyants’ chamber music round at the 2016 CIPC, featuring Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major with the Omni String Quartet. Of course it was Mndoyants’ electrifying interpretive skills that brought this solid repertoire quite to life.
Beethoven’s third and last set of Bagatelles are not encountered often, but they represent the essence of Beethoven’s late works, with their simplicity of expression, masterful linear counterpoint, and concentration of thought.
Mndoyants was at once elegant and penetrating in his approach to these forward-looking vignettes. He responded to Beethoven’s mercurial moods with flawless technique, variously limpid and tender, visionary and rapt, and furious and audacious as Beethoven required. Mndoyants left little space between the individual vignettes, underscoring the relationships between the pieces, as Beethoven seems to have intended.
Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 8 is the last work in a trilogy of wartime sonatas and finds the composer in a multifaceted state of mind — pensive, explosive, wistful and joyous. Mndoyants went straight to the heart of this rich music, bringing to life Prokofiev’s complex narrative with skill and understanding.
In the gnomic Andante dolce that opens the work, Mndoyants brought insight and an excellent ear to Prokofiev’s shifting landscape; while in the lengthy finale, he scaled its challenging heights with energy and aplomb.
The Omni Quartet was formed in 2009 by violinists Jung-Min Amy Lee and Alicia Koelz, violist Joanna Zakany, and cellist Tanya Ell, all of them members of the Cleveland Orchestra. In Schumann’s well-known quintet, they blended perfectly with Mndoyants and gave a resounding performance of this chamber masterwork.
The stealthy second movement was especially well-shaped and balanced, while the scherzo was given a fiery reading that brought a brief wave of applause (as did, in fact, the first movement). The finale was everything one could have hoped for, with a palpable sense of joy in the brilliant double fugue that brings the work to its vivid conclusion.
By MARK SATOLA