The New York Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - Written by Zachary Woolfe

2 Pianists, One Low-Key, One Fiery

The pianists Andrew Tyson and Ilya Yakushev don’t look all that different when they sit at their instrument. Both bow their heads a bit toward the keys and keep their hands on the flattish side.

While any physical distinctions between their postures are in minor details — Mr. Yakushev’s hands are perhaps slightly more arched — they have little in common as presences. Calm, boyish and lanky, Mr. Tyson seems to murmur to himself as he plays. Mr. Yakushev, more solid-looking and intense, with close-cropped blond hair and a goatee, smiles, sometimes broadly.

The effects of their respective artistries, too, were quite different at Mannes College the New School for Music on Monday, when they shared the bill on the second evening of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival.

Marking the 15th anniversary of its founding, the two-week festival includes twice-daily recitals in addition to lectures, master classes and a minicompetition. The Prestige Series of concerts, at 6 p.m., features rising artists, and the Masters Series, at 8:30, presents more established pianists.

Comparing Mr. Tyson (who had the earlier slot) and Mr. Yakushev, then, is more or less arbitrary. They were presumably paired on the same day for no reason other than scheduling convenience. But it is only natural to look in tandem at two recitals performed back to back, particularly two that were so different in mood.

Mr. Tyson’s technique is basically secure. But while his playing on Monday in a program of Chopin’s music was carefully considered and flexible, with ample rubato throughout, that well-calibrated moderation sometimes felt like blandness. He often fell somewhere between cool and hot, particularly in a series of five mazurkas and a rendition of the Scherzo No. 4 in E in which the contrasting moods could have been more sharply defined.

The Sonata No. 3 in B minor, which followed the intermission, found him at his best, with the third-movement Largo benefiting from his restraint; he gave a sense of the music’s big tidal phrases, fading and reconstituting. But even in that work, I wanted more of a feeling of relief, of return, at the recapitulation of the theme in the first movement. His modesty — an unusual quality in a concert pianist — extended to his encore, an unassuming Chopin prelude that lasted less than a minute.

No one would confuse Mr. Yakushev for bland. He cultivates a fiery, impetuous persona, beginning pieces before the applause has died down and leaping to his feet before the final note has ended. His tone was authoritatively even in the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, and his control seemed to wane only slightly in the work’s finale, when the beat should underlie even the most furious passages.

He was aided by a Yamaha instrument that sounded mellower than the Steinway used by Mr. Tyson and was able to withstand the crashes of Prokofiev’s First and Second Sonatas without blaring. Mr. Yakushev played with both energy and brash humor, and in Schumann’s “Carnaval” collection, he was febrile, ready to pounce but delicate in the gently fluttering “Reconnaissance.”

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