Review: Pianist Golka reaches Tchaikovsky's summit

By David Williams | January 28, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor is so much a cornerstone of the piano's repertoire, and so familiar, that it is hard to imagine any pianist finding anything new in it. Still, Mount Everest is not new, yet people still climb it.
Some of the Tchaikovsky's popularity has to come from its formidable challenges, the musical mountain to be conquered.
The American pianist Adam Golka, 23, in his debut with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra on Friday at the Clay Center, had enough technical prowess, that, if the Tchaikovsky-as-a-mountain metaphor held, he more strolled to the top and back without breaking much of a sweat.
Not that his playing was uncommitted or uninvolved. The piece just seemed easy to him.
Melodies gleamed with apt tonal colors, lines emerged and faded with aplomb and textures were distinctly stated without losing a bit of romantic ardor.
Conductor Grant Cooper drew a majestic quality from the opening horn-launched melody with Golka enlivening the energy with rich arpeggios. The minor-keyed Russian dance of the middle was poised rhythmically but neatly unsettling in tone and energy.
Golka's finest playing came in the legato poetry of the slow movement, and he received ample support in melodic exchanges with clarinets and solo oboe. The central Prestissimo (very rapid) dazzled in contrast.
Golka drew plenty of fireworks from the piano in the finale, yet never sounded forced. Cooper and the orchestra were fleet and thorough in following.
He played an understated Brahms Intermezzo, Op. 118, No.2 as an encore.