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S & H Recital Review

Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky Mikhail Pletnev (piano), RFH, Tuesday March 5th, 2002 (CC)

Mikhail Pletnev’s programme of two works more usually encountered in orchestral garb seemed to present yet more questions about this musician. Mussorgsky’s mighty Pictures at an Exhibition made up the first part of the concert and provided just what I have come to expect from Pletnev: quirks and contradictions set side by side with moments of real insight, the one playing off the other.

The opening ‘Promenade’ promised much, the deliberately harsh tone of the initial statement contrasting well with the richer passages. ‘Gnomus’ was witty; ‘Il vecchio Castello’ atmospheric. ‘Tuilleries’ however brought the onset of a heavy, mannered style of playing that was to recur throughout, culminating in a laboured and unsubtle ‘Baba Yaga’s hut on fowl’s legs’, itself giving way to a perfunctory ‘Great Gate’.

It was almost as if Pletnev was unwilling to let Mussorgsky speak without first distorting the music with his own voice. Far from being at the service of the composer, Pletnev seems to purposefully wrench the text in to his way of doing things, irrespective of whether the music wants to bend that way or not.

Perhaps this instinct to mark everything with his own stamp led to the inspiration for his own transcription of music from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. With his own hand in the creative mix, though, Pletnev was, of course, more at home. This was very much like listening to an extended, Liszt-derived paraphrase: gestures were firmly rooted in the Romantic virtuosic tradition. The explicitly, unashamedly virtuoso opening led to a selection of delightful movements from Tchaikovsky’s masterful ballet, including an eminently civilised Gavotte and a festive finale. On every level, this was more satisfying than the Pictures of the first half.

Of the encores, Chopin’s D flat Nocturne, Op. 27 No. 2, replete with over-projected treble and more of that studied rubato stood in contrast to a delightful Liadov Waltz.

Colin Clarke

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