by Melanie Wong
Photo credit: Michelle V. Agins, The New York Times
Earlier last month, Nikolay Khozyainov (Russian winner of the 2012 Dublin International Piano Competition) gave his Carnegie Hall debut. Boasting a meaty program of Beethoven, Chopin, Prokofiev, and Liszt, 20-year-old Khozyainov proved himself a technical wizard, despite his musicality often showing some need for maturity.
The young pianist definitely understood the diabolical, a theme that was woven throughout the program: Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 is one of the composer’s three “war sonatas” based on World War II, and Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz (which Khozyainov performed as an encore) depicts the story of the devil Mephistopheles as seen in the legend of Faust.
Dissonant and often angry, Khozyainov gave a vigorous and expressive performance of the Prokofiev, displaying excellent rhythmic skills throughout the third movement's relentless 7/8 section, as well as excellent finger control through the tricky technical passages. His extreme precision was even more impressive given his lightning-fast tempo. The Liszt encore was another example of Khozyainov’s unbelievable technique, as he meticulously sped through the piece’s countless octaves and giant leaps. Beyond his technical accomplishments, Khozyainov kept great energy and played with his own voice. Both the Prokofiev and the Liszt were exhilarating and undoubtedly the highlights of the evening.
The other pieces on the program were less stellar in their delivery. Throughout Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 and Chopin's Berceuse in D-flat Major, Khozyainov maintained technical perfection without exhibiting much else—his inner voices could have used much more support, his pianissimos lacked substance, and his phrasing was unsophisticated. During the Liszt Sonata in B minor, the youngster had a great full sound, but often fell short in the way of musical direction and development; while there were many great moments, it was less than cohesive overall.
All in all, Khozyainov is a fabulous young performer with the potential to become one of the great pianists of our generation. His huge program was a true challenge and quite well done for a musician his age. His areas of inexperience will hopefully grow with time, and both his relaxed nature and technical expertise will only help him on his way.