Review: Ksenija Sidorova—Accordionist Extraordinaire—at Mostly Mozart
By Joshua Rosenblum, Contributing Writer, August 7, 2017
Ksenija Sidorova’s program bio says that she is “the world’s leading ambassador for the accordion.” After seeing her solo recital on August 5 at the Kaplan Penthouse, as part of Mostly Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” series, her rapt audience was perfectly willing to concur. Most of us when we think of the accordion (if we do at all) probably imagine oom-pah-pah accompaniments and klezmer music. Sidorova is eager to blow your mind with the vast and dazzling possibilities of her instrument that go leagues beyond the stereotypes.
Her program began with Pjotor Londonov’s “Scherzo-Toccata,” written in 1979 as a test piece for a competition. It started out with a fanfare-style intro, then proceeded as a bracingly up-tempo waltz. Sidorova played this piece—and everything else—with verve, style, and attitude, as well as impeccable virtuosity and an amazing dynamic range. Her music-making included a considerable amount of showmanship, as if she were creating performance art, not just playing an instrument. Almost flirtatious in her approach, she seemed to be telling a story with her facial expressions to go along with the music. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s model-gorgeous.) Sidorova is mesmerizing, exuberant, and a bit of a showoff. “As you can probably tell, I’ve had a few espressos,” she announced charmingly at the end of the piece.
Sidorova noted that this was the first accordion recital ever on the Mostly Mozart series. Accordingly, she launched into Mozart’s Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman,” better known on this side of the Atlantic as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” This was an immaculate rendition on accordion of a challenging piano solo, complete with lots of classical ornamentation and tremendous delicacy of expression. Sidorova played as if she were showing off the piece and the instrument at the same time, asking us, in effect, “Can you believe the accordion can do this!?” She rendered a soft, skittering, descending C major scale as if it were the most exquisite thing anyone had ever heard. And in her hands, it came close.
In the panoramic, multi-movement Autumnal Sceneries by Anatoly Kusyakov, Sidorova continued to display the startling timbral potential of her instrument: amazing richness and fullness of sound, with an unexpected array of colors. At times she almost sounded like a full chamber orchestra, or a large pipe organ, which was especially gratifying when she leaned into some of the piece’s crunchy dissonances. At other times she invited us to listen to sublevels of pianissimo dynamics—most audience members probably didn’t know the accordion could play that softly. One very appealing movement—distinctively Russian—evoked the “Tuileries” section of Pictures at an Exhibition, only slightly more lumbering. And the final section—fast, fiery, and slightly discordant—sounded like Prokofiev visiting the circus; it was stunning.
Rachmaninoff’s rapturous “Barcarolle” was achingly beautiful, and seemed to pour straight out of Sidorova’s soul. Before the piece, she mentioned that Rachmaninoff had written it while mourning the death of his mentor Tchaikovsky; this added poignancy to the performance. Sidorova described the next composer, Sergei Voitenko, as a classical accordionist and performer, but also a pop star. His piece, “Revelation,” reflected this duality: it sounded like a Russian crossover piece. Seemingly spontaneous, with an improvisatory feel and lots of ornamentation, it came off as very nostalgic and cinematic—almost slushy at times, with both French and Russian overtones, but quite lush and beautiful.
Sidorova ended with three irresistible pieces by Astor Piazzolla, whom, as she says, “Every accordionist comes across at some point.” “Tanti Anni Prima,” a charming and elegant concert piece, is almost Chopinesque in its tunefulness, but with rich, Argentinian-flavored harmonies. “S.V.P.” is more in the Nuevo Tango style that Piazzolla is famous for. To say Sidorova has an affinity for this idiom would be a grievous understatement. The last piece, “Sentido Unico,” was in a similar vein, but a little more sly and playful, augmented by Sidorova’s teasing bending of the rhythms. Her sheer enjoyment was palpable and contagious. As an encore she played a paraphrase of a Russian folk song, with some blinding, Flight-of-the-Bumblebee-style variations. It was a dazzling cap to one of the most purely enjoyable musical events of the season.
Ksenija Sidorova, accordionist, in concert with Mostly Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, 165 West 65th Street, on August 5, 2017 at 10:00pm.
Mozart: Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, maman”
Kusyakov: Autumnal Sceneries
Rachmaninoff: Barcarolle, Op. 10, No. 3
Piazzolla: S.V.P.; Tanti Anni Prima; Sentido Unico
Encore: “Meadow duckling,” Viktor Gridin’s arrangement of a Russian folk song.
Cover: Ksenija Sidorova; photo: © John Kentish.