With a full moon playing hide-and-seek among streaks of clouds, Maryna Kysla performed a recital at Lyall Federated Church in Millbook last Saturday evening. Kysla was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, where she gave her first public piano recital at five. By the time she had graduated from high school in 2010, she had won many international competitions and Bard College offered her a scholarship. She studied there under Peter Serkin and Melvin Chen. Most recently, she performed at Pianofest 2017 on Long Island in the Hamptons.
Kysla opened with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 22 in F major, Op. 54. In two movements this sonata recounts the story of a young girl attending a ball. A person of great social status arrives. She is too shy to speak to him, yet eventually she does. To her surprise, she likes him. They begin to flirt. The second movement is the short dance they perform as their romance begins to flower. This is Beethoven at his most charming. Kysla performed with intense immediacy capturing the caution, the flirtatious transition, and charm of a delightful yet unexpected social dance-romance.
Continuing with a dance theme, Kysla shifted to high-gear—nearly possessed by the somewhat bizarre magic required with Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz, no. 1, S 514, which recounts the Gothic story of Faust and Mephistopheles entering a country tavern. Disturbed by the lack of romance, Mephistopheles seizes a violin, two by two the peasants dance and two by two they walk out into the moonlit woods to “sink in the ocean of their lust,” according to the poem by Nikolaus Lenau on which the composition is based. With fingers pounding the keyboard, Kysla gave a thrilling performance of the greatest Gothic musical masterpiece. A YouTube video of Kysla performing this piece appers below.
I thought that this climax would present problems for a dramatic follow-up, yet she played Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Six Moments Musicaux, Op. 19, which Rachmaninoff, desperate and penniless, composed at the age of nineteen for a commission brokered by a poet friend. Written in ten days, this thirty-six minute piece charts a kaleidoscope of moods. The second movement features a haunting pentatonic melody that reappears in the fifth movement with more dramatic chords, yet transitions to single notes, and concludes with a remarkable, meditative tranquility that banishes the Gothic element. The optimism of the sixth movement shifts all the troubled elements of the previous five movements into a framework of re-birth.
With the Gothic mode having vanished, Kysla launched into J.S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 12 in F minor, BWV 857. This was sensitively played a slight fraction of second slower than I have usually heard it played, so that its religious sentiment shone more brightly.
Kysla then performed a short Toccata in C major by the Ukrainian composer Arcady Filippenko (1912-83). While not known in the West, the large body of Filippenko’s work is treasured in both Ukraine and Russia. This racing Toccata was lively, amusing and witty, a wonderful light-hearted conclusion to an evening’s thrilling and engaging performance. Kysla played everything from memory.