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Pletnev Live at Carnegie Hall
Chaconne in D minor, BWV1004. Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-49) Four Scherzos.
BONUS CD: ENCORES: Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Etude-tableau in E flat minor, Op. 39 No. 5. Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915) Poème in F sharp minor, Op. 32 No. 1. Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) Keyboard Sonata in D minor, K9. Moriz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925) Etude de virtuosité in F, Op. 72 No. 6. Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910) Islamey.
Mikhail Pletnev (piano).
Carnegie Hall, November 1st, 2000
DG 471 157-2 [two discs] [DDD] [102.01]
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Martin Meyer's positively hero-worshipping note to this document of Mikhail Pletnev's Carnegie Hall debut (Wednesday, November 1st, 2000), plus Pletnev's printed statement of intent mean that the actual experience of listening to this recital has an incredible amount to live up to. Pletnev writes that (re the Beethoven), 'There's an enormous quantity of tiny details. All these elements should be audible in my performance, but without disturbing the overall design'. Some would say this is merely stating the obvious, others would say that this is to aspire to the impossible. The balance between the two comes out in the greatest of performances. Whether Pletnev succeeds is very fertile grounds for debate.

Certainly the Bach/Busoni Chaconne is very much up his Prospekt. Pletnev achieves the necessary cumulative effect. His sound is big, without being imposingly enormous, the only minus point being that his bass is slightly hard. One can but marvel at the clarity of the fingerwork (especially given that this is taken live).

These strong fingers return to impress the listener in Beethoven's great and final C minor Sonata. Articulation in the difficult first movement is crystal clear and his chords at the opening are full and obviously very carefully weighted. But doubts as to whether he can achieve the claims of the booklet creep in here: never at any stage is the listener aware that one is listening to one of the greatest pieces ever written for the piano. Similarly, the heavenly Arietta's theme is well-voiced and possessed of smooth, singing cantabile. But our guide never takes us to the Elysian Fields, preferring instead to interrupt the flow with some ill-timed pauses (which may have been tension-laden in the hall itself) and leave us firmly in an autumnal New York.

At least at first, there appears to be a better balancing of sections and more identification with the composer in the Chopin Scherzos. Once more, stunning clarity is the watch-word in the fiendish B minor Scherzo, Op. 20, but doubts begin to creep in as the sound world created fails to draw the listener in to Chopin's world: so, for example, once more one can respect the cascades of the Third Scherzo without getting emotionally involved. By now, a pattern seems to be developing of a clean technique which never seems entirely at the service of a fully formed interpretative statement. Contrasting sections on the Scherzos become too languorous too easily and thus become disconnected from the musical thread.

Still, the audience liked it. So much so, in fact, that there are 22 minutes of encores (the bonus disc). The Rachmaninov Etude-tableau is appropriately stormy, Scriabin's dreamy Poème providing a cooling balm. Scarlatti's D minor Sonata, so famous to amateur pianists because of Associated Board publications, is taken in a Romantic setting. The Moszkowski is an entertaining diversion into Horowitz territory.

To encore Balakirev's Islamey is, to say the least, brave (some would say foolhardy). It turns out to be the redeeming feature of the recital. Here at last caution is thrown firmly to the wind. Never mind the occasional handful, the spirit has finally arrived. And it is, after all, better late than never.

Colin Clarke

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