The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Reviews of pianist Lola Astanova don’t sparkle as brightly as her Tiffany jewels. She played Vladimir Horowitz’s concert grand, but she is no Vladimir Horowitz.

January 28, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that last weekend, I posted a preview and early review of the concert that the striking looking, 26-year-old, Uzbekistan-born pianist Lola Astanova (below) gave a week ago Thursday.

It was her Carnegie Hall debut, but took place within the unusual context of a gala fundraiser for the American Cancer Society that featured celebrities Donald Trump and Julie Andrews. (What do you think The Donald and The Julie said to The Lola?)

Well, you can look up some of Astanova’s recording on YouTUBE and decide about her playing for yourself.

But in the meantime, here is a sampling of various reviews of her concert that was reported on prominently because of her penchant for cutting-edge, skin-revealing, S&M-like fashion along with some $850,000 of jewelry by Tiffany. (Think she borrowed any of it from Callista Gingrich? Nah, it’s needed too much on the Florida campaign trail to attract the Republican base.)

An admirer of the great flamboyant virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, for her “Tribute to Horowitz” Astanova also managed to perform her recital on Horowitz’ vintage and souped up Steinway concert grand that has toured the country several times for promotional purposes. (Many years ago, The Ear even got to play some Chopin, Scarlatti and Scriabin on it when it stopped in Madison.)

Her program was also classic Horowitz (below, in a portrait by Richard Avedon): One big work (Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 “Funeral March” – such an fitting choice for an uplifting cancer event, NOT); one medium piece; (Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor); and several smaller works, by Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.

But the various reviewers seem to agree on this much: Lola Astanova is no Vladimir Horowitz, who also received his share of negative and disparaging reviews as well as raves. Still, bow ties do seem more tasteful, if less sensational, than leather or vinyl. And his paling was truly distinctive, and one of a kind.

Most of the major critics found her playing mediocre, or at least not especially outstanding – nothing faintly comparable to say the playing of that other fashion maven Yuja Wang or Valentina Lisitsa to Jonathan Biss or Jeremy Denk to pick four other very promising young piano talents.

True, some critics allowed more for the unusual nature and laudable goal of the event than others.

But nothing in any of the reviews sounds like a major label will soon sign Lola Astanova (below, after the recital). And I wouldn’t expect to see her soon of PBS’ “Great Performances” or “Live From Lincoln Center.”

But who can tell? The media can be funny about these things.

Anyway, you can read the reviews and decide for yourself.

Here is the review by freelancer Zachary Woolfe (below) for The New York Times:

Here is a more positive review:

Famed for his crankiness and chummyness with celebrities, Brit critic Norman Lebrecht (below) also weighed in. Be sure to read the comments from readers:

And here is a review that seems to focus on the whole happening as more of a charity event than a musical event:

So what is your verdict?

Do the reviews makes you sorry you weren’t in the audience to hear Lola Astanova?

Or just as happy that you missed it?

The Ear wants to hear.

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