The audience in San Fernando Cathedral on Sunday evening, September 23, heard a major-league concert pianist…for free. This remarkable recital was presented under the auspices of Musical Bridges Around the World and generously patronized by Judy and Jefferson Crabb.  Unfortunately, however, Oleg Polianski had to play his program on a Yamaha baby grand piano.  The instrument, which was a gift to San Fernando in 1997 from Roger Feller, in memory of his wife, is a lovely one, with a beautiful tone. But it is simply not adequate for the range of dynamics and pyrotechnical bravura of Polianski—who is a prizewinner of many international competitions.

Overall, Polianski was impressive, although some tempi were perhaps too fast (e.g., the polonaise section of Chopin’s Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante, which was also played with too much pedal for the echoing acoustics of the cathedral).  The Andante spianato, however, was so lovely that Chopin himself would have praised Polianski’s treatment of it.

Likewise, Liszt’s Liebestraume No. 3 seemed a bit on the fast side, but was still beautiful.  The interpretation of the same composer’s Valle d’Obermann was lavishly  sensitive and probably rivaled any performance it has ever received, even perhaps by such pianistic and musical giants as the unsurpassed Claudio Arrau and Busoni Competition-winner Aldo Mancinelli.

Schubert’s magnificent Impromptu in G-flat, Opus 90, No. 3, was delivered with all the love and attention to its greatness that it deserves.  This is a ‘song without words,’ and it was undoubtedly rendered as beautifully as it ever has been.  Polianski’s performance of this work, along with the Chopin Andante spianato, utilized fully the beautiful and warm (but small) tone of the piano.

As stupendous as most of the recital was up to this point, it became even more so in the final section, which held six Etudes-Tableaux of Rachmaninoff.  Chosen from both Opus 33 and Opus 39, these astonishing pieces by the sometimes (wrongly) underrated Russian composer, were executed with transcendental technique, passion, and obvious love and devotion by Mr. Polianski.  One hopes to have the good fortune to hear this fine musician-pianist again (in a concerto with the San Antonio Symphony would be welcome), playing a nine-foot concert grand piano!  He is a big pianist with a big sound and should be heard playing an instrument with the same attributes.

John Moore
Associate Professor of Music
St. Mary’s University