Review: A Romanticist of the First Order

“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.”

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Review: Throwing Caution to the Wind

“Composed in 1843, Schumann’s pioneering work — the first major piece to combine piano and string quartet — remains one of the most commanding peaks of Romantic chamber music. Visiting and local ensembles have performed it several times hereabouts in recent years, always with a cautiousness that left too much of the music’s overflowing life on the page.

But this performance spread its wings and soared as I’ve never heard it before. The manic opening allegro, the giddy, propulsive scherzo and the bold finale were fleet, agile and seamless, compelling from first to last. In the funeral march, the repeating rhythmic pattern took on a death-rattle chill. Mr. Valkov’s crisp diction, deeply etched rhythms and brilliant technique contributed immeasurably to the results and perfectly complemented the string quartet’s taut precision and big, radiant sound. The whole came off as surprisingly contemporary, as if this 19th-century piece would have been just as much at home in Sam’s Burger Joint as in a traditional concert hall.”

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