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Paul M. Somers, Classical New Jersey Society Journal, May 27, 2004:

"Fire and revolution . . . and impish wit"
Juana Zayas (piano), Mozart Rondo in A minor, K. 511; Prokofieff: Visions fugitives, op. 22; Chopin: Four Ballades opp. 23, 38, 47, and 52. Unitarian Society of Ridgewood

Juana Zayas’ back to back performances of the four Chopin Ballades was the monumental event of this recital. But the evening’s journey to that tumultuous mix of nationalism and revolution was just as engrossing: all twenty of Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives, the epitome of 20th century miniatures, took their rounded course preceded by Mozart’s prefiguring of Chopin in his fairly late Rondo in A minor.

Least well known to most listeners was this meditative Mozart work using a form more often associated with rollicking finales. But here the composer creates a long line and sets it in a highly chromatic language which is a clear antecedent to Chopin’s instrumental bel canto style. Even the 3/4 meter reminds one of Chopin yet to come.

Ms. Zayas obviously wanted to create a link to Chopin and made as much as she could of the similarities. Her secure technique, never challenged in Mozart, produced an appropriately romantic ethos.

Other aspects of pianism which were to serve her well in Chopin first surfaced in the Prokofiev performance: her deft way with third hand effect, the wide range of her pianistic colors and touches, her flawlessly dazzling virtuosity in the mad swaths of keyboard covering technical passages. The grotesquerie found only in Prokofiev during this recital revealed her ability to fall in line with his wit.

But finally it all came down to the Ballades. Fiery passages were played with blistering emotional speed which left the audience marveling after the initial impact at the immaculate accuracy. Though on general principle a few missed notes can be counted on, if there were any on this occasion they went unnoticed. It was, indeed, Zayas’ intense accuracy of not only pitch but of attack and rhythm which allowed the fire to become so intense. There was nothing approximate or fudged by the pedal. When Ms. Zayas was calm, as at the beginning of the final F minor Ballade, her intensity bristled with kinetic energy. So when the piece finally erupted in her hands it was a call to arms, an evocation of political revolution with Chopin as general.

The artist was clearly drained at the end of such a recital. But she graciously provided three encores: some Bach/ Busoni and a Scarlatti sonata bon-bon.

* * *

Jeremy Siepmann, BBC Music Magazine Direct:

"Collection: Juana Zayas in Recital
Works by Bach/Busoni, Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and Debussy

Among the many strengths of these performances is Zayas's finely honed sensitivity to the effect of context upon content, her continuous awareness of cause and effect. Not for her the carbon-copy approach to repeated material that mars so many otherwise impressive interpretations. This is truly organic playing, in which everything is interrelated and a powerful sense of structure is conveyed without any sacrifice of expressive detail.

Witness her artful variation of phrasing and emphasis in the two Chopin sonatas, where repetition is such a vital part of the drama. Some, though, may criticize her tendency to desynchronize the hands. This is no casual mannerism, however, but an acute response to the immediate balance of melody, harmony and texture. Nor would it be right to suggest that she is excessively self-conscious or idiosyncratic.

Yes, there are individual touches, as in all players of the highest caliber, but what we have here is an admirable blend of intuitive response and thoughtful fidelity to the text. Zayas is not a player who blindly follows the score in an attitude of knee-jerk humility, but rather one who has self-evidently pondered the meaning behind the markings.

Her use of meticulously plotted articulation and dynamic contrasts as an agent of movement in Mozart's K330 Sonata is a case in point, as is her deft use of rhythmic profiling in Beethoven’s Appassionata. One measure of quality in any performance is the degree to which the act fits the fact. By that criterion alone (and there are many others) this is a musician deserving of the highest respect."

* * *

October 12, 2002 - Jan Narveson - University of Waterloo Gazette:

"Pianist Juana Zayas is unknown in these parts, and in her concert for the Chamber Music Society the question that immediately came to mind is, why?

In the short opening Romance in F# by Schumann, the warm, rich sounds she elicited from the KWCMS Steinway were altogether extraordinary, as was her evident feeling for this brief piece. Without pausing for applause, she lit right into Schumann's Fantasy in C, a piece that has been played quite frequently here over the past few years. No one, however, has equaled, let alone exceeded, Ms. Zayas' account, with its splendid clarity at all volumes, its masterful handling of intricate passages, and above all, its conveying of a convincing account of this score.

The other masterpiece of the evening was Schubert's great final sonata in Bb, a work that has not been played as often hereabouts, but again, never played so convincingly. This performance struck us as generally magical. For one thing, it always managed to sing, be the song happy or sad, its surrounding material complex or simple, fast or slow.

For another, she has a wonderful way with rhythm, as in the scherzo that provides such strong contrast to the deeply felt slow movement; this had the needed spring and life, which is not a matter of velocity. And she managed to make the finale seem neither anticlimactic nor redundant. In a selection of encores too, by Chopin and Scarlatti, she demonstrated that she is not just another pianist, let alone some obscure unknown, but simply one of the greatest keyboard artists of our day.

Hats off!"

* * *

Zayas, Channeling Chopin. . . . Zayas is a pianist who has much to teach the world. She trusts Chopin implicitly and never roughs him up or slathers on rouge; she lets his repetitions play out naturally and hypnotically. Her sense of the right way to do things is so close to what Chopin writes on the page that it can seem as if she isn't interpreting the music at all. But that is a kind of interpretation in itself: or rather, a kind of faith. Zayas's devotion and modesty are her greatest strengths, and both came through with perfect clarity. - Philip Kennicott, The Washington Post - Washington, DC

Master pianist Juana Zayas makes triumphant return to Schenectady. On Sunday at Proctor's Theater, she gave a deeply charismatic performance of the Chopin F minor Piano Concerto, and an equally riveting interpretation of the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. . . . [In the Chopin] Zayas's tonal beauty and sincerity of approach imbued every note with life and love. In the slow movement (Larghetto), she conveyed the rapture and longing of the 17-year old Chopin's unrequited passion for a fellow student. The delicious trills and exquisitely molded ornamentation sent shivers down the spine. . . . The second tour de force of the evening was the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. . . . Zayas brought out the aesthetic core of each and every variation with strength, decision and warmth. At the same time, she was able to negotiate the pyrotechnical difficulties with disarming ease and grace. . . . - Feroza LaBonne, Special to the Times Union - Albany, NY

. . . This was one of the most musically mature, technically powerful and thoughtfully structured, programs to have been heard in the Lehigh Valley in quite some time. - Philip A. Metzger, The Morning Call - Allentown, PA

. . . This recording of Chopin's piano music is one of the finest available, and Juana Zayas's talent makes her eligible to be mentioned in the same breath as Martha Argerich, as well as Jorge Bolet. . . In short, even if you have other recordings of Chopin's Preludes, you need to make room for this one. Juana Zayas is phenomenal. - Raymond Tuttle, Classical Net Review

. . . pianist Juana Zayas challenged the audience to rethink the way Chopin is heard and experienced in our generation. . . . In her unassuming way, Zayas's mastery attained the technical feats the recital demanded, and let the music take center stage. . . . After three standing ovations and clamoring for more, she finished the program with a simple and beautiful rendition of the Waltz Opus 69 No. 1. - Vincent Schommer, The Times Herald-Record - Middletown, NY

. . . The concert at Macalester College's Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, was not flashy and overdone, but truly an affair of virtuosity and joy. Minneapolis Star Tribune - Minneapolis, MN

. . . it was a great night of music-making. . . Zayas is a fine example of what is called a natural virtuoso... She merely buries her head in the music and, aided by deft fingers, reveals its richness. - Los Angeles Times - Santa Paula, Ventura County, CA

. . . Zayas plays Chopin with much the same commanding sweep that Petri invested in the music of Liszt. Higher praise is hard to imagine. - Piano & Keyboard review of the Chopin Etudes

... Zayas, however, simply must be heard by all who appreciate piano playing - and Chopin playing - on the highest level. - Donald Manildi, American Record Guide

. . . from the first phrases a distinctive clarity coupled with a personal tonal beauty caught the listener's attention. From thjen on, one could only note in passing the pianist's technical brilliance of articulation and ease of execution, as the sheer pleasure of the music's content overwhelmed all else. - Sarasota Herald-Tribune - Sarasota, FL

. . . a return appearance by Juana Zayas was a real musical feast. . . Zayas is a musician's musician - a pianist with both heart and technique, which means she plays the dazzling romanticists like Liszt with unstoppable virtuosity and Mozart with a classical kind of lyricism. - The Dayton Daily News - Dayton, OH

Not since Gina Bachauer was around to dazzle concert audiences has a woman pianist brought such virtuosity to a program for the keyboard. Not, that is, until Cuban-born Juana Zayas emerged on the scene. . . [Zayas] was a vivid reminder of Bachauer, a musician with enormous strength, very much a no-nonsense pianist. . . clean, brilliant keyboard work, beautifully polished. - The Dayton Daily News - Dayton, OH

Humble and unaffected in persona, she is a magic dynamo at her keyboard. The familiar came through as something almost new. - The Hour - Norwalk, CT

Hearing pianist Juana Zayas play music from South America is like hearing Count Basie's band play the blues. . . Nobody does it better. . . dazzling display. . . Zayas played the entirety of both works [by Ginastera] like they were hers and hers alone. - The Daily Gazette - Schenectady, NY

Her playing is crisp, and she has enormous verve. Her disc of the Chopin Etudes exhibits high craft. - David Dubal in The Art of the Piano, Summit Books, New York

Zayas has the hands and temperament for fiery, dramatic works and her fast, clean fingerwork was particularly incisive in the sometimes agitated, sometimes bantering first movement [of Shostakovich's Concerto No. 1]. . . Zayas's cadenza playing later in the work was spectacular, to say the least. - The Schenectady Gazette - Schenectady, NY

Young, Cuban-born pianist Juana Zayas joined Bonavera, the St. Cecilia [Chamber Orchestra] and trumpet soloist John Hudak for a fresh, satisfying performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1. . . Zayas was entirely at home in the bravura piano writing, playing with crisp accuracy and a tonal beauty even in some of the pounding chordal sections. - The Times Union - Albany, NY

. . . one of the highlights of this incredible, crowede period was pianist Juana Zayas's debut appearance in Dayton Saturday. . . Zayas played the sort of musically satisfying, intelligently planned recital program. . . impeccably played. . . wonderfully romantic. . . with sensitivity as well as virtuosity. - The Dayton Daily News - Dayton, OH

. . . Her brilliant grasp of the [Chopin First Piano] concerto and refined sense of style. . . Her execution of a true Chopin rubato was exemplary, as were her phrasing and articulation. - The Los Angeles Times - Los Angeles, CA

Miss Zayas's interpretation [of Chopin's First Piano Concerto] remained steady and solid. There was never a sense of conflict or difficulty in her facile execution of the concerto's intricate themes and subtle rhythms. . . Ms. Zayas's fingers were flying in the final "Rondo" movement but remained invisibly tied to a steady, regular pulse. But the constraints of a mechanical beat did not restrain Ms. Zayas from infusing her interpretation with tender nuance. - The Journal News - Nyack, NY

Ms. Zayas is a very talented artist. Her playing is a consummate blend of superb technique and sensitive expression. . . She has a firm sense of the architecture of a piece. - New Canaan Advertiser - New Canaan, CT

. . . it seems as if she [Ms. Zayas] is better than ever. If anything, there is, it seems to me, poetry and lyricism - even a little restraint - in her playing [of Saint-SaŹns' Concerto No. 4]. . . Zayas plays with power without ever assaulting the instrument and she can deliver soft, muted passages with feathery gentleness. - The Schenectady Gazette - Schenectady, NY

[In Chopin's two sets of Etudes, Op. 10 and Op. 25] Her style is primarily virtuosic, but with a restraint that is well suited to the music of Chopin. . . a thinking person's Chopin. . . an unhesitating "A," as befits this abundant Chopin evening. - The Journal-News - Nyack, NY

Juana Zayas is a musician of decidedly special communicative power. . . Ms. Zayas made of the set [of Chopin's Preludes] a totally and uniformly absorbing half-hour, setting every one of these miniatures out in immensely poetic style, with abundant warmth, strength and security. . . an artist worth traveling many miles to experience. - The Times Herald Record - Middletown, NY

Miss Zayas played with style, sensitivity, a big technique, and an aristocratic flair for the mixture of romanticism and classicism embedded in the music. - Harold C. Schonberg, The New York Times

Miss Zayas gave an exceedingly impressive performance of the complete etudes. . . She played with color, with technique to burn, with a good deal of individuality. . . like Joseph Lehvinne or Ignaz Friedman, she never broke the line by over-interpretation. . . It was altogether an imposing feat, and it may be that we have with us a Chopin pianist to the manner born." - Harold C. Schonberg, The New York Times

 


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