REVIEW: Yulia Chaplina's Russian programme opens new season of St Peter's Church recitals

Written by Christopher Rogers on .

Yulia Chaplina Yulia Chaplina The latest concert in the well–established Saint Peter’s series should have featured the piano duo Yulia Chaplina and Jonathan Deakin.


Very sadly Jonathan Deakin was indisposed and was unable to play. As a result we had Yulia alone, playing a magnificent programme of Russian music from the late nineteenth century. 

Yulia was born in Rostov on Don, making her debut as a soloist in Rostov at the age of 7! She studied piano first in Rostov, then in Moscow and, in 2016 moved first to Berlin and then to the Royal College of Music in London where, in 2013, she was awarded the Mills Williams Junior Fellowship. 

Her performances have been word wide, most notably in her native Russia and in Japan. She has studied with some of the greatest musicians of our times, including Mstislav Rostropovitch  and Andreas Schiff. Today she bases herself in London. 

The first half begin with Tchaikovsky’s Meditation. It is a gentle and lyrical piece with a fine melodic line sensitively played with much emphasis on the huge swelling dynamics. 

The remainder of the first half was devoted to music by Prokofiev.  He is the most recent of the Russian composers represented in this recital - he was born in 1893. 

After the Russian Revolution Prokofiev moved to the USA, but eventually returned to Russia. He survived the Nazi invasion and the horrors of WW2 - dying in 1953. His relationship with the Soviet authorities had become very strained and much of his music was banned. However, he now receives all the credit due to him. 

First came the Sonata in F, a work dating from 1947.  It is a fine piece, work, but challenging to  the ear of the ‘casual listener’ - the movements lacking obvious ‘form’ or structure. The work is full of huge contrasts, one movement all punchy and staccato, another beginning with a lively clarion call, others more thoughtful and tranquil. 

Yulia managed superbly with the technical challenges demanded by this piece and made much of the prevailing  moods expressed in these very  different movements. 

Then she played three very contrasting movements from his celebrated ‘Romeo and Juliet suite’, transcribed for piano by Prokofiev himself.  First, The Street Awakens, all chatty and  cheerful. 

This was followed by the more graceful Dance of the Girls with Lilies and finally  Romeo and Juliet Before Parting.  Wistful and more emotional in turn, there are great mood shifts which Yulia conveyed so well.    
The second half began with Tchaikovsky. First, the Valse in F sharp minor paired with October Song from the Seasons. Here were two very contrasting pieces, the Valse rather dark and forbidding thanks to the key signature, while October Song so eloquently played,  reflects the gentle nostalgia of autumn, a portrayal of hazy sunshine, drifting leaves and misty evenings. 

A selection of dances from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite followed.  These very familiar pieces had been arranged for piano by Mikhail Pletnev.  One of Russia’s musical stars in the latter years of the twentieth century, he is a formidable pianist as well as a well-established world-class conductor, specialising in Russian music. 

This transcription is very demanding and requires not only musicality but formidable physical skills. Yulia treated us to both

The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was all bright and tinkling, while  both the Intermezzo and the Andante provided us with some plangent and tender playing with wonderful familiar melodies emerging from a sea of arpeggios and chords. This was wonderful playing and the audience was entranced. 

Music by Rachmaninoff followed.  First, his well-known Vocalise. It is a wistful piece, full of nostalgia, interrupted by more agitated moments. It was played with real feeling and understanding. 

This was followed by Rachmaninoff’s Etude-Tableau. This is dark and brooding and very agitated until the last few bars where an element of serenity, or resignation perhaps, reigns. 

Technically challenging it was beautifully played, the sense of urgency and anguish well portrayed, the glorious melody strongly emerging in the left hand. 

Yulia then played another of Rachmaninoff’s piano pieces - his Elegie Opus 3. It is another wistful piece - a glorious melody scored over gently rippling arpeggios, played by Yulia with immense feeling. 

This was paired with Scriabin’s Etude in the same key, D sharp minor.  Scriabin was a near contemporary of Rachmaninoff, but died young, aged 43, in 1915. His work is, sadly, less well known to ‘western’ audiences.   A troubled man, he developed an interest in mysticism, while his musical style points  towards the modernism of Schoenberg. 

This Etude has all the fire and rage you might expect from such a complex character. What a contrast to the Rachmaninoff and what a dramatic and virtuosic end to a superb recital. It was a wonderful display of Yulia Chaplina’s technical skills and musical interpretation. The audience was  uplifted by the experience.


The next recital in this series of Brilliant Young International Musicians at St Peter's Church will feature a trio - piano, oboe and cello.  It is on Sunday, November 24 at 7.30pm.