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Daria Rabotkina presents The Ghosts of Inspiration

By Malia Jolly, February 8 2024—

As part of the Faculty and Friends concert series, internationally renowned Daria Rabotkina was invited to perform an evening of solo repertoire at the University of Calgary’s Rozsa Centre. Currently an associate professor of piano at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, Rabotkina’s program was fit for a dynamic, emotionally charged atmosphere with sonorities and tender melodies from the classical period, as well as the romantic era. The evening was a display of the piano’s intricate layers and sonic possibilities. 

She began the concert with Robert Schumann’s Ghost Variations, WoO 24, the last work of the composer that he claimed to have received from the spirits and angels. The work was quiet and light-hearted. Rabotkina successfully captured the serene quality of the work with careful control and delicate hand sweeps, carrying the listener through a journey of haunting melancholy to moments of fleeting optimism and quiet introspection.  

Beethoven’s Selected Bagatelles, Op. 33, provided a greater expressive opportunity due to its rhythmic vitality and diversity of character. These character pieces set an atmosphere of excitement, steadily building up anticipation with the promise of something significant. Rabotkina performed this piece with a great deal of emotion, swaying her body in sync with the melody and looking up at the ceiling to visualize the musical landscape. The listener could feel the ferociously wailing wind, the sound of wave after colossal wave, and the turbulent sound of the earth below. Pulse-pounding, one might have expected an angry hurricane that’d drown King Kong. Instead, the music subsides at the end with an eerie stillness, leaving the atmosphere in a dense sea fog.

Then there was Nikolai Medtner’s Sonata-Reminiscenza, Op. 38, No. 1, which while not simple, was rather plain. The classical piece was a dull, brooding melody. A melody one could sing along to, it was compelling in a way. Rabotkina did a fantastic job of immersing the listener with her polished technique and precision.

To prepare us for Paul Harvey Aurandt’s Sonata in B-flat Minor, Rabotkina revealed that his son wrote this composition in the mid-70s. 

“Something happened and he stopped playing. This sonata is an unintentional self-portrait of him at the time,” she said. 

This piece had a dreamlike quality to it: it was mysterious and imaginative. Introducing itself to the listener like a storyteller, weaving tales of despair and longing. The keys struck with fervour, the lower notes whispering in the ears of the audience secrets they thought they’d take to the grave. The higher notes spoke of fleeting moments, like the raindrops racing down a windowpane. The piano’s last notes came to a close with the listener now a well-travelled connoisseur, and remained suspended in the hushed stillness of the hall.

The pianist took a bow, and the audience, utterly silent during both halves of the concert (not one cough), erupted at the end with a lengthy — and bustling — standing ovation.

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