Regis, United Kingdom: Saturday 7 December 2002
Bognor Regis, that quintessentially provincial English seaside resort is unfairly famous for being the subject of the dying George V's last words - quite what he said doesn't bear repetition on a family-friendly website! A more positive claim to fame is to be home of the delightfully intimate Recital Hall where Valentina Seferinova treated a very appreciative audience to a recital featuring some of Raff's finest piano music. One of a series of performances which was being given by the Bulgarian-born pianist in various English south coast venues, this concert was unique in offering an all-Raff programme.
The programme in fact mirrored her recently issued CD [review] comprising the compact and innovative Fantasie-Sonate op.168, the meltingly lyrical Trois Morceaux op.2 and finally the majestic second version of the Piano Sonata op.14 from Raff's final years. Rather than offer the usual blow-by-blow account, it suffices to say that her performances displayed all the very considerable merits she already shows on the recording - stunning accuracy, a real feel for the architecture of each piece and an understanding of the contrasting elements of Raff's style, integrating the warmly lyrical with the contrapuntal and fugal. Where the CD hardly does her justice is in conveying her passion and commitment to the music - and this is no criticism of the recording because how could it?
She began the recital by explaining to the audience how she had "fallen in love" with Raff's music. This sincere belief in the value of the pieces she was playing was evident from the very first bar of the Fantasie-Sonate, which then unfolded into a reading of fire and power, relieved by a delicate central section of great beauty. It stood revealed as the towering work it surely is. The less serious Trois Morceaux more closely paralleled her CD renditions, though the greater dynamic contrast in the opening Elegie gave it even more substance. The central Romance was utterly charming and the cascade of notes in the twinkling Valse sent the audience off to the interval with a grin. The substantial and potentially drier fare of the Piano Sonata was in safe hands as Seferinova gave it her all. Again, a very "big" performance which built upon her recording by adding an emotional intensity expressed by stronger dynamic contrasts, delicate phrasing and, in the case of the second movement, breathtaking speed. The gossamer Scriabin etude encore was in perfectly judged contrast. She played from memory throughout and coped with a very noisy piano pedal with aplomb.
The audience's appreciation of both Valentina Seferinova and, judging by their comments, Raff himself was fulsome and well merited. She seems a pianist of rare talents - whilst the delicacy might be expected from her small frame, the sheer power is more of a surprise. The quality which came across more than anything else, however, was her total dedication to what she was playing. It is gratifying that Raff has found such a committed interpreter and one looks forward to hearing more of his music from her.
Having taken the risky decision to relocate to the UK from Bulgaria, it is to be hoped that she can re-establish for herself the fine reputation which she apparently enjoyed in her homeland. On this showing she is a fine artist indeed and richly deserves success in the wider repertoire on the national and international stage.
This recital was recorded and can now be viewed on YouTube.