(The Age)

Stalin’s Piano Review

(Articles & Program Notes)
Published – 17.11.2019
(Writing)

Stalin’s Piano ★★★★ ½
Sonya Lifschitz, Melbourne Recital Centre, October 17


Art and politics have always reflected one another. Is all art inherently political? Very possibly.

Robert Davidson’s multimedia work, Stalin’s Piano, sits firmly within this intersection of creativity and public affairs. It presents video footage of influential artists and politicians speaking about their work, while live music underscores, accompanies and at times overtakes the onscreen action.

With Sonya Lifschitz at the piano, this is a recital for the modern day. She is virtuosic and precise, but here Lifschitz is not simply a recitalist but a theatre actor, an orchestra and a soloist all at the same time.

The music, which at times follows the speeches in exact rhythm and pitch, gives the onscreen musings their own musicality. “We all make music when we speak,” Davidson said in his introduction to the work, and this sentiment is realised literally through much of the performance.

There is no singular narrative thread in Stalin’s Piano, but the story of Stalin and his favourite pianist, Maria Yudina, is central. It sets the tone for the work in its entirety, while appearances from E. E. Cummings, Joseph Goebbels, Bertolt Brecht and Percy Grainger, among others, play out as satirical, heart-breaking and strong reminders of the world’s need for art throughout history.

Davidson’s music is expressive and empathetic to its visual elements, and if this is reflective of what the modern piano recital is to become, then long live the piano recital.

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