December 10, 2016
The memory has to board the way-back machine and set the dial to 1992 and a Ravinia Festival appearance by Shura Cherkassky to find a suitable comparison with the pianist Viktor Valkov’s bravura recital for Camerata San Antonio, Dec. 4 in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall.
Mr. Valkov, a native of Bulgaria and a doctoral candidate at Rice University, is a familiar figure hereabouts, mostly in chamber music. He was entirely on his own for this Camerata recital. The generous program leaned strongly in the Romantic direction, and it was in that repertoire that the comparison to Cherkassky was clearest — the brilliant technique, the kaleidoscopic color, the sheer fun.
Mr. Valkov was especially attentive to stylistic matters. The outer allegros of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 25 in G, Op. 79, were infused with blustery gruffness, the accented quarter-notes in the opening presto exploding like gunshots. One might quibble with his declining Beethoven’s invitation to a legato right-hand melody in the andante, but the line always formed a connected arc even if the individual notes were emphatically detached.
Four Scarlatti sonatas followed. Here, Mr. Valkov favored a crisp, often percussive staccato, evoking the articulation of the harpsichord, but he also drew without apology on the ability of the modern piano to shade dynamics.
A true legato entered the picture with Robert Schumann’s Arabesque, Op. 18, the first of a string of extraordinary performances showing great sympathy with the Romantic style. The first half closed with “Isolde’s Liebestod” from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, in an arrangement stitched together from those by Moritz Moszkowski, Carl Tausig and Franz Liszt (minus the excessive squiggles), with contributions by Mr. Valkov himself. The pianist's aim, both in his choices of materials and in the meticulous voicing of his performance, seemed to be to come as near as possible to the luxuriance and sweep of the Wagner orchestra.
After intermission came a sort of tour of Central European folk styles, all benefiting from Mr Valkov’s highly specific approach to rhythm in each case — the Polonaise-Fantaisie and the Mazurka in B Minor by Fredéric Chopin, and the Valse-Impromptu and the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 by Liszt. In all, the clear delineation of voices, the fearless extremes of dynamics and the fluid execution revealed a Romanticist of the first order.
Mr. Valkov returns to Camerata on March 10 and 11 to play Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, on a program that also holds Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130 and the “Grosse Fuge” — a concert not to be missed. Mike Greenberg
Viktor Valkov takes bows after his Camerata San Antonio recital in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall.