Elena Vorotko

Iffley Church Hall

By Julia Hollander


lffley Church Hall was packed to its rough-hewn rafters on Saturday night. At the piano sat a young woman from a little town on the Volga river. Strikingly austere in a plain black dress, her hair pulled tightly away from her face, Elena Vorotko struck me as an uncompromising figure.

elena vorotko

She began with the simple C major arpeggios of Bach's first Prelude. Many professional pianists avoid the Preludes and Fugues, regarding them as juvenile or hackneyed. But Vorotko knows better. In contrast to the opening number, the Fugue that partners it is particularly tricky, and I enjoyed the clarity with which she passed the melody from one key to the next, from the right hand to the left.

She played nine such pairs with great intelligence, giving solid pauses between them. There was not a cough or a shuffle from the crowd in this silence, let alone during the playing. In her programme notes, Vorotko explains that Bach's piano music is "the passion of my life", how she started learning it as a young child, using 'late Romantic' style.

To the modern ear that means a terribly hammy, pre-war sound. Of course, she has moved on; these days she is well versed in Baroque interpretation, extremely knowledgeable about the inner meaning of this composer's work. At the same time, she is clearly not a purist - striving to draw from the piano the articulation of a harpsichord, there was always strong muscularity in her music making.

She could be tender as well as rhythmic, grandiose as well as tripping. Heading for the
end of a movement, it was deeply satisfying to hear the melody broaden towards its conclusion.

In the second half of the concert, we were treated to a virtuosic rendition of Schumann's Symphonic Etudes. Vorotko wore a lacy bolero over her dress, drawing our attention to the music's change of mood: utterly, unashamedly Romantic.

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