Matsuev the unbeatable

January 2 2012

Author: Miklós Fáy

Source: Élet És Irodalom

Of course, it’s not Denis Matsuev who is unbeatable, but Masutatsu Oyama, one of the founding fathers of karate, who was known to have killed full-size bulls with a single blow. The Siberian pianist, however, sometimes gives the impression that he’d rather kick his piano, chew off the lid prop and throw the pieces into the audience. And he would carry on playing, of course, keeping the piano keys for himself. Denis Matsuev is a great entertainer.

He is more than that, but it is masked by his entertaining performance at first. You end up having such a great time at the Liszt bicentenary concert of the Palace of Arts that you start to wonder whether you have been captured by some sort of an entrancing pleasure. The Liszt Year was not about that. Not for me at least; I kept seeing the serious Liszt, the 124 volumes of the Christus oratorio, bound in leather, everlasting, or the short two minute piano pieces with such lovely titles as Sursum corda and Nuages gris. And then, in parades this dragoon from Irkutsk with such a grandiose rendering of the two Piano Concertos and Danse Macabre, which deservedly resembles the young Liszt. What’s more, he plays well. Not only could he play every fly-speck on the sheet, he performs properly, with intense virtuosity and great stamina, colourfully and diversely. I would not say that it was the greatest challenge intellectually, but maybe this is what you need for a balanced performance. Liszt must have annoyed his contemporaries with something: he could score on both fronts, he could shine and preserve his depth at the same time.

Matsuev does exactly the same. He is the absolute star of the evening. I only notice the Danubia Symphony Orchestra when they are unable to play in unison with the soloist and when the woodwind section makes the orchestra sound like giant creaking leather shoes. There is nothing left, but the pianist, on his own in the lime-light, alone with his momentary connection to the pieces. The different layers of this connection result in a diversified concert. His version of the Piano Concerto in E-flat major feels a little lighter than the heavy piece it is often perceived or rendered as. It seems that Matsuev wanted to astound us more than anything. The Piano Concerto in A major remained unaccomplished as usual. It is impossible to find your way through it, because Liszt gives you the least clues, the least melodies, memorable moments and points of reference to guide you and Matsuev is no help either; he opts to showcase versatility, his own versatility, to prove that brute force, crunching, crinkling and jingling aside, he can also be lyrical. 

Danse Macabre is the closest to perfection. It could only be improved if the orchestra managed to up the stakes, but this is not just a matter of willing. Denis Matsuev, however, is the true hero of the bicentenary; not by chance, but by his attitude towards music. He has no fear. He gambles and wins. Most of the time. He conquers, because he is courageous, he is not bound by submission to culture. His first and last thought is his instrument, just like the way Liszt keeps coming back to the piano. The last encore is not a classical piece, but jazz; Ellington’s famous Caravan, strummed out with good precision. Just as well. It reminds me of Liszt and his connection to gypsy music, the jazz of his era. No vacuum or dangerous heights, we stay on the ground, away from heaven. Which is just fine.

Tags: Liszt

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