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Acclaimed pianist Katia Skanavi played at the Town Hall on her debut Australian tour. Once again, Musica Viva can take credit for bringing the world’s best classical performers to Adelaide.
Skanavi’s extraordinary talent was recognised from a young age and she was only in her teens when she first came to prominence. She was a finalist at the prestigious Van Cliburn competition and many commentators thought she should have won; indeed, Skanavi’s success does seem to have eclipsed that of the winner.
After something of a respite from the stage to enjoy motherhood, Skanavi is back displaying all the technical excellence for which she is renowned and a maturity of interpretation that makes her playing so magnetic. She has said that she is focusing on a select repertoire of composers, and this intimacy with the music was evident in her playing.
The recital opened with Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, a piece of intense musical and thematic contrasts. Wearing a backless evening gown, Skanavi seemed fused to the piano, leaning deeply into the instrument with her bare arms enveloping the keyboard in a sensuous embrace. This was a raw, aching Schubert, full of emotion and demanding to be heard.
This was followed with Carl Vine’s Piano Sonata no 3, a structurally exciting work that sounds distinctly more modernist than postmodern. Vine is Musica Viva’s Artistic Director and this year’s featured composer – deservedly so, having listened again to his Third. There is much to love in this work, and its complexity grows on you with each listening.
The rest of the program was dedicated to Chopin with his renowned Funeral March and the even more moving Piano Sonata no 3 in B minor. Technically, these pieces both make high demands on even the most exacting musician, but Skanavi’s outstanding pianism was more than equal to the task.
As always, it is her nuanced musicality, rather than her musicianship alone, that makes Skanavi such a captivating performer. Her interpretations of these well-known works are unmistakably her own, often taut and pared back, at other times furious and fiery. This duality of discipline and passion, each jousting for supremacy, is perhaps reflective of her mixed Russian and Greek heritage and makes Katia Skanavi a thrilling performer. Bravo, Musica Viva, for bringing her to Adelaide.
Adelaide Independent Weekly - May 13th, 2009

KATIA Skanavi is a young Russian pianist, Moscow born and trained, and an experienced competition player who has made an impression recording, among other things, Russian piano music.
Whatever preconceptions a pedigree such as this might suggest, in reality Skanavi is a very surprising package. The most striking thing about this recital for Musica Viva, at the start of her first Australian tour, is that Skanavi plays with a maturity and artistic vision that one normally associates with performers 20 or 30 years her senior.
From the opening theme of Schubert's elusive A minor Sonata it was clear that she has an exceptionally refined sense of musical discourse. Skanavi brings a purposeful concentration to every note she plays, and the intensity of her interpretations is utterly compelling. She has an immaculate technique; not just in terms of speed and dexterity but also in her control of tone colour and sonority and, above all, a luminous, singing melodic touch. Her sense of musical line is highly refined, and in music that is principally melodically driven, like most of this recital, she plays with a rhythmic suppleness that ensures the music's lyricism is always to the fore.
Chopin's second piano sonata, with its famous funeral march, is one of the most over-played works in the repertoire, yet Skanavi's performance was fresh and imaginative. Her playing in the lyrical sections of the second and third movements was delicately enticing; her phrases starting and ending in a whisper, the rhythm poised yet stretched out to create a rapt stillness. By contrast, the finale rushed past in a whirlwind. With great dexterity, a gossamer-light touch and expert pedalling, Skanavi created an almost impressionistic soundscape here.
Similarly impressive was Chopin's Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante. Skanavi brought a poetic grace to the andante that was reminiscent of an old-school master and the repetitions in the polonaise provided the opportunity to show her pianistic versatility, with every repeat given a slightly different treatment.
That Skanavi is comfortable in a range of styles was evidenced in her persuasive account of Carl Vine's highly appealing third piano sonata. Despite the virtuosic nature of some of the writing, her playing was always thoughtful and refined, her fine ear for piano textures creating beautiful tapestries of sound from this often complex score. This was a recital of the highest order. Skanavi is definitely a pianist to watch.
The Australian  - May 7th, 2009

Skanavi/Demidenko @ Perth Concert Hall
The final two Chopin lunchtime concerts in the Polish Spring festival culminated with recitals by two brilliant Russian pianists, the young virtuoso Katia Skanavi and the legendary Nikolai Demidenko.
Katia Skanavi opened her recital with the Ballade No. 3 in A flat. Her interpretation had a dreamlike quality in its sensitivity, with peaceful and calm playing. Her finesse and total control was always evident and her playing exemplary in nuance and style. Similarly, the Two Nocturnes Op. 55 that followed were played with great composure with Skanavi demonstrating the full emotional breadth of the works.
The Andante Spianato and the dramatic Grande Polonaise Brillante were an opportunity for Skanavi to show her full command of the keyboard and she made the wonderful contrast from the soft, tranquil Andante to the fiery Polonaise with great aplomb.
Her final piece was the Sonata No.3 in B minor. This tour de force is a challenge for even the most formidable of pianists and for someone of Skanavi’s youth to play with such command and authority and understanding was a rare treat.
Such was the applause, Katia Skanavi not only returned for one encore but gave three and such was her stamina she could perhaps have played for another hour.
Where Katia Skanavi portrayed the feminine side of Chopin interpretation, Nikolai Demidenko portrayed the masculine side.
He began with the Variations on La ci darem la mano Op 2. The theme, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, was given a bravura performance by Demidenko with each subsequent variation demanding more virtuosity than the last.
The Ballades No1 in G minor and No 2 in F major followed, and here Demidenko gave an inspired, mature reading of both works with a highly charged and, at times, very intense interpretation.
The final work was the great Sonata No 2 in B flat minor. The famous Funeral March was full of pathos particularly the beautifully played, wonderfully lyrical second theme.
The final Presto raced along at breakneck speed to conclude a spectacular and dramatic performance.
Demidenko returned to give two encores; first Chopin’s final work, the Mazurka Op 68 No 4, followed by his Rondo Op 1, ending this weekend celebration of Chopin’s 160th anniversary with the first piece he had published.
Both recitals were recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in May.
Perthshire Advertiser Friday - April 10th, 2009

Commanding Katia
Enormously impressive in her debut with the BSO, Russian born Katia Skanavi's international reputation is yet to be heralded in the UK.
Schumann's Piano Concerto, as interpreted in her seemingly nervous, idiosyncratic style, created a distracting yet physically commanding performance.
While Skanavi's inimitable artistry touched every note with a steely precision, the first movement swayed under marked rubato with assertive dynamics on the grand scale.
The cadenza produced a battery of notes in amazing detail and though the Adagio proved a gentle interlude the finale exposed primary colours and technical demands at the expense of its sweeping melodic impulse.
Dmitry Sitkovetsky had the satisfaction of conducting Beethoven's Symphony No 4 in a cogently argued, finely proportioned performance. The arresting opening Adagio led to a powerfully scored Allegro vivace all tastefully paced. The slow movement's dramatic gestures intermingled with honeyed; singing lines here perfectly balanced.
Vitality in the Scherzo's sparkling elaboration was effortlessly played with the finale's hive of rhythmic impulses, reminiscent of a swarm of non-to-friendly bees, setting the strings buzzing in Sitkovetsky's vivacious and affectionate account.
The lovely, tender Siegfried Idyll Wagner, composed on the birth of his son, was presented in a rather cool, yet homogeneously ravishing performance.
Bournemouth Echo - February 28th, 2008

Skanavi brings sheer entertainment value to the concert stage. She is a strikingly attractive performer, and she’s not afraid to play the role of the Romantic pianist. She bows in the great Paderewski tradition, bending almost in half. And she plays with her head tilted back, as if searching for some inspirational muse lurking about the ceiling ... She pounced on Liszt’s Tarantella with enough ferocity to elicit an audible gasp from the audience. And she created Niagras of sound in Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in B-flat.
The Washington Post, 2000

Katia Skanavi, Russian pianist, packs a wallop
The Alys Stephens Center's Reynolds-Kirschbaum Recital Hall, as fine a small performance space as Birmingham may ever see, opened a little too quietly back in September. But the crashing prowess pianist Katia Skanavi brought to her UAB Piano Series recital there Sunday made up for whatever fanfare was lacking last fall. Born in Russia and a Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory graduate, Skanavi's name came into circulation when she made it to the final round of the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Her specialty is mainstream 19th-century repertory, and there was plenty of just that on Sunday's program. 
Three observations emerged from this up-close experience with the young virtuoso. First, her playing can pack a wallop. Chopin's Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante was high on majestic pomp and ceremony in typical high-Romantic fashion; one wondered what the composer, whose own playing was "fleet, fluid, light in touch, small in tone, greatly varied but within a very small range," as the program note reminded us, would have thought. Even grander in scale were three preludes by Rachmaninoff. Second, she shared with us an alert, inquisitive mind willing to take finely nuanced interpretive chances. These showed up to best advantage in the series of paintings that constitute Schumann's Carnaval, Op. 9, as a series of delectable rubati, each boasting enough rhythmic freedom to keep us following Skanavi's train of thought but never too much to destroy the underlying metrical structure. Third, most of the higher dynamic volumes throughout this program proved too much for the intimate confines of this hall, which seats about 175. Skanavi's performance was largely symphonic in scope, and probably would have sounded better in the 1,330-seat Jemison Concert Hall next door. But the pianist seemed less concerned about where she was and how she might best communicate meaningfully with her audience than in making the wealth of musical points she clearly has the chops to drive home.
The Birmingham News - January 24th, 2000

Superb soloist dazzles concert
SAN BERNARDINO. Stewart Robertson and the San Bernardino Symphony Orchestra delivered considerably more than they promised Saturday. The featured performer was Katia Skanavi, one of the six finalists at this year's Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. She didn't win a medal in Texas, but she won the hearts of an appreciative audience at the California Theatre with a dazzling rendition of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor. The concerto gives the soloist ample opportunity to demonstrate technical mastery while at the same time it is a very satisfying experience for the listener. Skanavi delivered both technical bravado and listener satisfaction. She presented a commanding presence from the moment she strutted on stage in a dazzling red sleeveless gown with a glistening beaded bodice. After a few moments of difficulty apparently adjusting the height of the piano bench, she launched into an exquisitely intricate solo passage to open the concerto. Robertson and the orchestra provided solid support, but Skanavi was constantly the center of attention as she navigated delicate lyrical passages and hammered out fortissimo sections with sensitivity and precision.
Particularly enjoyable was the playful middle movement, with a neat, comical change of pace a couple of minutes in.
The Press-Enterprise - December 16th, 1997