New piano star rises from old Soviet Union

November 01, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Musically, at least, the breakup of the Soviet Union has been glorious. As in the death of a galaxy, supernovae have been exploding with dizzying frequency. And because the Iron Curtain is no longer in place, Western audiences in the past five years have heard one dazzling young pianist after another.

The most recent in this progression of pianistic supernovae -- at 24, Evgeny Kissin is the old man of the group -- is 21-year-old Eldar Nebolsin, who gave a recital at the Terrace Theater in the Kennedy Center Monday evening. Nebolsin -- Uzbekistan-born but of Russian-Jewish ancestry -- is a spectacularly endowed, serious artist.

His seriousness could be gauged by his program. The flashy work de rigueur on the program of the young pianist was Chopin's early, rarely performed "Variations on 'La ci darem la mano' from Mozart's 'Don Giovanni,' "; the obligatory modern piece was Sofia Gubaidulina's imposing "Chaconne," which was visiting the United States for only the second time in its 23-year-old exist ence; and the program's big work was Prokofiev's Sonata No. 6, the greatest and least accessible of the composer's nine solo sonatas.

Nebolsin's musicality was immediately apparent from a performance of Mozart's Sonata in E-flat Major. Mozart is hard for everyone to play -- and early Mozart hardest of all. The pianist's exquisite phrasing and his touch, which was sufficiently varied to suggest the human voice as well as early keyboard instruments, made affectingly clear the young composer's debt to Italian opera.

In Gubaidulina's "Chaconne," Nebolsin made the listener aware not only of the structure of this ancient variations form, but also -- in the virtuosic variations that lead to its conclusion -- of its Mussorgsky-like colors, tintinnabulation and grandeur.

Two Rachmaninoff preludes -- the heroic B-flat Major and the atmospheric D Major -- were superbly played, as was the by turns comic, tragic and grotesque Prokofiev sonata.

Nebolsin performed Chopin's Variations on "La ci darem la mano" with the extravagantly flamboyant virtuosity they deserve, but he also made the listener aware of the influence of Bellini (whose bel canto writing the composer admired) and of the harmonic daring of the greater Chopin to come.

Although his future seems limitless, Nebolsin is clearly not just a pianist to watch. As this recital demonstrated, he's already here.

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