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What can one say about a phenomenon of nature? I am convinced that 12-year-old Canadian pianist Anastasia Rizakov is actually a 40-yer-old woman trapped in a child’s body. Deadly talented and mature beyond her years, this most gifted pianist adoringly admitted that she loved the Binghamton audiences and likewise, we love her, too.  Her concert last Saturday (Sept. 17, 2011) at Binghamton’s First Presbyterian Church was remarkable.

Playing a diverse program from Beethoven to a much lesser-known Nikolai G. Kapustin, Rizakov showed even  more command (if that’s even possible) than her performance here two years ago.  Her playing is always extremely clean and precise, whisking through the difficult arpeggios and roulades with finesse. When she plays, she often looks up; as though contemplating a prayer or invoking the dead composer’s spirit to inhabit her. It is at that moment she seems transfixed, not earthbound and certainly not 12. But when she takes her bow and smiles, she catches at our hearts as we see clearly this innocent and unpretentious youth who has fooled us again. How can she be just a child, we ask? Even with her marvelous training, this innate ability is something almost unnerving because, yes, she really is 12 and she really is that great a musician.

At times, she actually stands at the piano during the music’s most challenging phrases, her head deeply bowed.  One can feel her love for this music. She is not merely playing an instrument; she is feeling every note, and it is as emotional for her as it is for her audience. Aside from Beethoven, she played one of Chopin’s more recognizable Ballades (No. 1 in G Minor) and Franz Liszt’s Etude No. 2 in F Minor. Tchaikovsky’s Scenes from a Russian Village (Dumka: Op. 59) was both moody and evocative encompasing the simplicity and yet spirit of the country life and its traditions.

When Rizakov started Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, there was a palpable exhale of breath from the audience. Her playing, while always technically meticulous, also was rooted in cascades of beautiful sound propelled by her emotions and, yes, her emotional control. At the conclusion of this work, the frenzied audence stood and cheered. This was a most remarkable accomplishment especially since she had only first seen this piece a month ago!

The second half of her program was in collaboration with the marvelous novo4tet: Uli Speth, violin; Martha Brody, viola; Hakan Tayga-Hromek, cello, and guest artist Stephen Stalker, double bass. Franz Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major ("Trout") proved a showcase for all. Based in part on Schubert’s famous song, Die Forelle, each of the five movements gave all these musicians ample opportunity to ply their skills with some lovely, balanced and blended playing.

Suffice it to say this was one of those rare musical evenins when, despite the challenges of a live performance, everything came together, and the audience indeed witnessed a concert that was both inspirational and memorable. Special thinks to Classical Pianists of the Future’s founder Lance G. Hill and Alvin H. Williams III along with ssociate Director Gary R. Williams.

Reviewed by Tony Villecco