Ukrainian artist Iryna Arbatska is one of those rare pianists who makes every note seem like a personal statement. Arbatska, 25 and a graduate student at the Mannes College in New York City, made her debut Saturday afternoon at the Niskayuna Public Library as part of the Young Musicians Forum,
Her program, which was entirely romantic, suited her. She plays the music from the inside out, getting into each phrase, each melody, to plumb the depths. Sometimes that meant she floated over the surface, such as in one of the many Chopin Etudes from his Opus 25, like an ice skater over a frozen lake. Other times she dived in to wring tragedy and pain from the depths, the emotions flitting across her face.
Arbatska, who during her youth and into her teens was considered a prodigy and played throughout Europe, has the technique to match. Everything was clear and clean, her pedaling was expert and light, her touch softly delicate. What impressed was her exceptional command of dynamics, especially in the softer levels, the constant interplay of nuances, and her marvelous musical sensitivity.
Arbatska began with Chopin’s Ballade No. 4. Initially, her touch was delicate with well-arched phrases played with great longing and a view to the horizon. For pages she stayed in the softer levels, almost too long, until finally she let loose with some fire. The contrast was thrilling and satisfying.
Scriabin’s Sonata No. 10 had crystalline colors, little trills and repeated two-note motifs that undulated and meandered. Arbatska was dreamy and stayed within soft to medium levels of sound.
It was all fire and drama, though, in Listz’s “Mefisto Waltz No. 1.” Her technical runs sparkled and she held back in the romantic melody like a cautious lover being wooed. Arbatska applied the same inventive musical sensitivity to the 12 Chopin Etudes, which she has recorded. Melodies were well sung and the technical demands were done effortlessly.
The capacity crowd especially liked No. 7 in C-sharp minor (a lament that was beautiful); No. 6 in G-sharp minor (the runs in thirds were like a waterfall glistening in dappled sunlight); and No. 12 in C minor (thrilling in its darkness, drama and fire).
As an encore, Arbatska played Rachmanioff’s Prelude in G-sharp minor with a gorgeous floating tone. Based on her showing here, her skills demand an international audience.