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When I checked my email it was already 3:00PM. I got the message from the Decca newsletter I signed up for: “Don’t forget! Valentina Lisitsa Live from Royal Albert Hall – Tonight 8PM GMT”. That’s 4PM EST. I still have a bit of time. I check my mail (the real thing at the door), brew some tea and sit back down at my computer. It’s 3:30PM but I turn on the YouTube channel anyway. The recital has already started. The audience couldn’t wait. Or I got the time conversion wrong.

Luckily Lisitsa is still chatting with the audience. After that she takes the microphone backstage, returns and begins with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.12. What a warm-up piece! What unexpected bliss. Virtuosity is adorned with wit and pathos. Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor follows with contrasting light-footed suppleness. Without much pause she launches into the three Schubert/Liszt song transcriptions beginning with the poetic “Das Mädchens Klage”, continuing with “Die Doppelgänger” and ending with the dramatic “Erlkönig”. She then carries on with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

YouTube HD streaming is unexpectedly impressive even for a 100" screen through my Benq 1080p projector. Audio quality is excellent—as good as the best CD—coming from the Mark & Daniel speakers. The Schubert-Liszt transcriptions are awesome. The Beethoven Moonlight is clearheadedly romantic (first movement), passionate and appropriately powerful for such a big hall.

The interesting thing about the repertoire is that it's based on popularity polls the pianist did on Facebook a month prior to the event.  To quote from her Facebook page, …Totentanz, Moonlight, Mozart Fantasy, Rachmaninoff 3 preludes+Etude, 3 Chopin Nocturnes..... Sounds like fun though :) Definitely doing some Schubert-Liszt, it was going very strongly in polls. 12th Rhapsody. Ah yes - Liebesträume! Have to work on it :-) 

What an effective use of the social network to champion classical music! No wonder she’s one of the most watched classical musicians on the Web. In fact when Joël Chevassus first introduced me to this wonderful Ukrainian pianist, the best if not only way to hear her was on YouTube except for her debut DGG album with Hilary Hahn playing the rarely recorded Charles Ives sonatas. Well, she also has a number of CDs released on the Audiofon label but I have trouble finding them. Among those CDs are some piano duets in collaboration with another Ukrainian pianist by the name of Alexei Kuznetsoff whom Lisitsa met when they both studied at the Kiev Conservatory. They married and have a son who’s now 7 years old. One ambitious recording project for Lisitsa in the making are the Rachmaninov concertos that include the never before recorded No.5 arranged by Alexander Warenberg based on the Second Symphony.

Interval time now. A pre-recorded video of Lisitsa plays to entertain the digital audience answering fan questions from your three favourite pianists? (Backhaus, Hofmann, Rachmaninov) to music you play when relaxing? ("Für Elise", haha! Don't believe that though) to what's next on your plan? (go home and rest). 

Audience applause. She comes back on stage – with Rachmaninov. I escape from full-screen mode just to check on the number of audience watchers, here I notice on the right-hand side column some live comments too being updated every second. There are close to 900 comments at this moment. I look at the current page and am immediately disgusted by a few mindlessly hurtful comments. Obviously some ‘casual’ viewers who don’t have to pay the price of a concert ticket feel equally privileged to offer unwanted opinions while others pretend to know every interpretations yet in fact could only accept a single preconceptual one. I won’t let them ruin my afternoon at the Royal Albert Hall.

Love her Rachmaninov, the G minor Prelude especially - so effortlessly purposeful, driving the piece to one big climax and then resolving to comforting pianissimo. Equally mesmerizing are Scriabin’s Two Poems Op.32. Just listen to those exquisite tones and moods. In the Chopin Nocturnes she does not shy away from emotional outpouring when needed. And that felt natural and intimately personal. The Bösendorfer adds a touch of delicate sweetness. Yes, I can tell from my Mark & Daniel speakers.

Liszt's Totentanz is playing now. 2,976 viewers are watching, dropping from the high of 3,067 during Chopin Nocturnes. Numbers keep fluctuating... 2,957... 2,989... 3,008... 3,030... 3,070 and going up. By the way, Lisitsa makes this virtuoso piece seem like child's play – powerful and breathtaking. Shouldn't she feel tired by now? Viewers drop to 700 and below even before Lisitsa returns to stage to play two encores: Schubert/Liszt Ave Maria and Liszt Grandes Etudes de Paganini S.141 No.3 La Campanella. No, she’s not tired. Incredibly nimble finger work and delicate touch. Crystal clear and pearly tones. I’ve never heard these pieces so fluidly elegant and yet executed with such uncontrived accuracy and nuances. I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the CD and DVD.

That finished the recital at Royal Albert Hall, London, by Valentina Lisitsa. Concert video link here.

I’m David Kan, reporting live from Toronto, Canada.
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