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May 08, 2016 (Review of "Prokofiev & Sinfonietta")

Impassioned Paremski delivers a fierce Prokofiev performance at Symphony Silicon Valley

Elijah Ho, Mercury News
In 1918, Sergei Prokofiev docked upon the Bay Area shores, uneasy about the political climate at home. The Russian Revolution had just rocked his beloved homeland, and like many, he sought refuge in America. In the 1990s, a young pianist and her family fled Moscow for Fremont, affected by violence and economic uncertainty, the remnants of revolution. Both would find redemption and solace in the music they made in America.

On Saturday evening at San Jose's California Theater, Prokofiev and Natasha Paremski, that now 29-year-old pianist, were spiritually united in the composer's Third Piano Concerto in C Major. Conductor Gregory Vajda and Symphony Silicon Valley completed the distinctly Russian-Czech program with works by Leos Janacek and Bohuslav Martinu.

The Symphony's delivery of Martinu's Overture for Orchestra belied the opinion held by some that the Bohemian composer was incapable of sustained inspiration. The musicians reveled in the buoyant rhythms, sounding distinctly warm throughout. The ravishing colors in the concerto grosso sections held the audience spellbound. Martinu, who as Prokofiev eventually did, ended up in New York, completed this brisk work within a week while at the Mannes School of Music there.

The evening, however, belonged to Paremski, a Mannes alumna, who was greeted with warm applause by an audience who might have been recalling her last engagement by the orchestra as a teen. The mature artist now revealed a meticulous devotion to the score that was circumscribed by dazzling technique.

The Andante of Prokofiev's concerto exploded with energy and excitement, as Vajda whipped the orchestra into a frenetic pace. With her fiery temperament, Paremski produced tone neither mellow nor warm, but always attractive, her sound piercing, her percussive chords judiciously weighted. Moments of refined lyricism were heartfelt and beautifully spun out, with effective pedaling for sustained warmth apparent throughout the second movement theme and variations.

The exchange between soloist and orchestra in the Allegro was utterly breathtaking. Paremski's flying octaves, double-thirds and glissandi amounted to a visually beautiful choreography of the hands that made it impossible to deny the palpable joy in the theater. Paremski reveled in unobscured Prokofiev, in the dissonance and irrepressible genius of the man.

After the intermission, not even an inspired reading of "The Love for Three Oranges" suite from Prokofiev's opera could clear the mind of the brilliance that had just transpired. The orchestra again exuded warmth in "The Prince and the Princess," memorable for the viola's beautiful, lyrical singing.

Vajda's performance of Janacek's resplendent "Sinfonietta" left little doubt of his ability to move an audience. His execution of the "Andante con moto" through fanfares and brilliant textural passages rendered heartfelt expressivity and a ripened, sustained sweetness with a touch of elegance.

After her performance of the Prokofiev, Paremski wished a happy Mother's Day to her adopted hometown and offered a fitting parting gift: Chopin's "Berceuse". At the final D-flat, one could have heard a pin drop.

Paremski is scheduled to perform Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony on July 22. If Saturday is any indication, the oft-played, beloved Russian work should sound entirely different to accustomed ears in the preternatural hands of this rising Russian-American star.

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Supported, in part, by a Cultural Affairs grant from the City of San José