"A Russian Pianist Finds a Place for Both a Hush and a Roar"

January 2 2012

November 19, 2007

Steve Smith, "New York Times"

The atmosphere was electric before a recital by the pianist Denis Matsuev at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night, and the accent of the throng was mostly Russian. Mr. Matsuev, 32, won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1998. He has since been heralded by some critics as the successor to Russian keyboard lions like Evgeny Kissin and Arcadi Volodos, and perhaps to Vladimir Horowitz as well.

In concert and on disc Mr. Matsuev has mostly specialized in finger-busting virtuoso pieces. But what was most striking about the account of Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” that opened this recital was the delicacy and introversion of his playing. Starting at a hushed volume and a relaxed pace he phrased with a dreamy freedom that had the feeling of spontaneous invention.

A diaphanous account of the “Tr?umerei” movement threatened to disappear altogether, and the bold silences and aching sustained notes of the concluding “Der Dichter Spricht” had an almost daredevil feel.

Mr. Matsuev was then forced to sit patiently while latecomers were ushered to their seats, and a cellphone provided a noisy counterpoint to the hushed opening bars of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. (This and other intrusions will no doubt be magically erased when BMG Classics issues this concert on CD.)

If Mr. Matsuev was frustrated, Liszt gave him ample opportunity to take it out on the keyboard. Tumultuous passages here were almost overwhelmingly raucous. But his poetic instincts held fast in tender moments, with trills as thrillingly precise as one might ever hope to hear.

Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” No. 1 is a formidable musical roller coaster, and Mr. Matsuev proved more than equal to its demonic dips and curls. He superbly captured the moody fluctuations of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7, from anxiety and brittleness to haunted rumination, and offered a primal performance of the roiling Precipato finale.

Tumultuous ovations elicited five encores — Liadov’s “Music Box”; a Scriabin ?tude (Op. 8, No. 12); “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Grieg in a flamboyant transcription by Grigory Ginzburg; Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G minor (Op. 23, No. 5); and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 — each greeted with increased passion. Mr. Matsuev’s vitality and control in the rhapsody, which included a deliriously jazzy cadenza, offered nearly a cartoon parody of Romantic virtuosity. When it ended, one fully expected to see smoke curling from his fingertips.

Tags: review

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