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CD Feature/ Kateryna Titova: "Rachmaninov"

img  Tobias

Kateryna Titova and I might have passed each other by on the street a couple of times. Until 2003, she was still studying in my current hometown of Münster, before moving on to the beauty of Dresden’s shoreline and the splendour of the Semper Opera. Of course, I would not have recognised her then, as she was only just starting her career. Now her face is all over publications from regional papers to specialised classical music mags.

Having moved to Germany from the town of Enakievo in Ukraine, the so-called “genius-clause” enabled her to continue her studies well beyond the usual limits (the particular paragraph allows prodigial artists to bypass certain regulations). Several institutions for the exceptionally gifted have furthermore supported Titova’s talents from a young age on. It is maybe not the worst thing that could happen to her that her debut disc is published with an agreable delay and at a time when she has had ample time to work on her own voice.

Even though Titova is still only in her mid-twenties and now ranks as the youngest Pianist on the roster of the German section of Sony BMG, she has long passed the threshold of the age of artistic consent and has strengthened her stamina in a string of live performances. Her choice of repertoire for her first album also shows how far she is able to distance herself from the usual collections of showstoppers often associated with creative prodigies. Dedicated entirely to Rachmaninov’s solo piano oeuvre, this is, quite simply, a personal portrait of the composer played by the hands of a young and aspiring instrumentalist.

Needless to say, there are enough technically challenging passages as it is. Rachmaninov’s arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Hummelflug”, for example (which would later resurface as the basis of the theme to Bruce-Lee-starring cult series “The Green Hornet”) or the pumping left hand rhythmics of “Moment musical No. 4”. In both cases, not a single note sounds forced and there always seems room for more.

With Rachmaninov, however, overcoming the usual issues of performance is nothing more than an ouverture to the difficulties of making his music live and breathe organically. A figurehead of the romantic repertoire, his melodies are often short, almost abrupt and regularly develop through chordal changes or simple bass line patterns rather than truly taking off on their own. On paper, they look decidedly alyrical and unambitious. In this situation, Titova is like a sculptor: She’s got the clay, now how is she going to breathe soul into it?

In a quest to satisfyingly answer this question she has taken some important decisions. It seems to be her conviction, that moments of emotional turbulence do not just require power – they demand pure passion. To prove her point, she comes storming into the “Sonata No. 2” with fire, each repetition of the downwardly bound avalanche of notes drenched in more darkness. And in the slow middle movement of the same piece, she shows that its initial impressionist quietude must not be regarded as pure “mood”, but rather as the first, embryonic stages of a development which will culminate in a tragically triumphant theme.

Another vital aspect of her interpretation is that these tracks never really seem to come full-circle. Somehow, their pain is cyclical, their happiness characterised by a lack of full satisfaction. Phrase never just end with Titova. They always bleed into the next, dragging out the conclusion until the very end.

It is an approach which is coherent especially in the Sonata. Here, in a long and winding composition with an unusual Leitmotiv, she can effectively sustain the tension and keep the listener engaged until the last note has been played. She does not need to rely on “colour” or drastic dynamic delineation to tell a story.

In the shorter pieces, however, the arches are more flat and things obviously require a different vision. The question is whether the dreamy section of a classic like the “Prelude No. 5” is not actually intended to be pure timbre (instead of thematic material) to fully contrast the militaristic introduction. Titova keeps the polariity restricted to parameters such as dynamics, tempo and rhythm and even though this has its merrits, her choice is certainly open to debate.

Listened to from beginning to end, the album is a stringent effort, though, which proves that good programming is not just a question of taste – but of embedding meaning: Kataryna Titova’s exclusive preference for Rachmaninov here tells us something about her repertoire, but most of all, it shows her audience that she is willing to dig in deep, never shying away from nightly shades. It is also the result of eight hours of pracise a day. So any hopes of meeting her on the street any time soon must surely be in vain.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kataryna Titova
Homepage: Sony BMG Masterworks

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