Reviews on American Tour of Denis Matsuev

June 23 2014

Pianist Denis Matsuev’s power overwhelms

Even in today’s overrun piano virtuoso market, Denis Matsuev stands out. On the evidence of his recordings, he possesses an epic technique, playing with seemingly superhuman speed, power, and agility.

At his Saturday recital in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, it was pleasant to discover that Matsuev can also produce the kind of singing tone and silvery pianissimo most pianists only dream about.

In his curtain-raiser, Matsuev responded with grace and swagger to the impish brilliance of Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI: 52. The masterly second movement showed Matsuev at something like his best, demonstrating suave phrasing and extraordinary tonal refinement.

Boston Globe

Seth Herbst 


Harry Rolnick

Volcano in the Room

…but he took his time, he breathed out the melody, and finished with the same kind of tumult–and let’s face it, after two hours, a very likeable tumult, for which his fingers, wrists and arms were created by a very Divine Providence.

Did a pianist who was all business have time for an encore? Absolutely not. Not an encore, but six encores. Music from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, played with the concentration of Brahms. A sombre Sibelius, a stirring Liszt Transcendental Etude, more Rachmaninoff, and then Liadov’s Music Box. Here was the Matsuev of total control. The music box winding down were fingers in the most delicate retards, with the last note a significant sixteenth-note rest after the last chord. Finally, it was Matsuev the jazz artist. I use the term artist without reservation. The melody was Billy Strayhorn’s Take the ‘A’ Train, though we didn’t know it through the meandering. When he got to the tune, the Oscar Peterson technique turned into Dave Brubeck improvisation to a whirlwind improv on the cusp of free jazz, back to the original–but always somehow retaining both the rhythm and the feel.

New York Classical Review

Matsuev finds moments of calm amid rushing impetuosity

By Eric C. Simpson

…when Matsuev slowed down and allowed time for reflection, he brought some stunning lyricism in “Chiarina” and “Chopin,” with a bit of wit thrown into the latter as he tossed off the send-up of the great pianist.

The announced program ended with Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2, which showed both of Matsuev’s pianistic sides. The opening Allegro agitato was luminous, and had a flowing spirit as he ran his fingers over the arpeggios. His playing was broad in the slow movement, and seemed to be ever expanding. Making time for himself, Matsuev showed his musical intelligence, singing through the keys with complete freedom.

Matsuev is an accomplished jazz pianist, and has made improvised jazz encores a trademark. Sunday’s fantasia on Take the ‘A’ Train was suave and spectacularly virtuosic, drawing repeated spontaneous cheers from the audience.

The Rogers Revue

Denis Matsuev at Strathmore

Denis Matsuev, one of the best pianists of this generation, had a solo recital Tuesday evening at the Music Center at Strathmore. The program consisted of the works of Haydn, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, which is fantastic in of in itself, but it was some of numbers not on the program which proved to be show stoppers.

Denis Matsuev has been redefining the piano for well over a decade. I’d say the best way to put it is that he has been redefining the piano with definition. Matsuev’s style is very temporal; it’s his timing and his tempo that are his own definitive stamp on a program. 

Of the pieces he performed on the program, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude was the most stimulating. It was fantastic! Matsuev exuded a fierce dynamism that was both emotional and aggressive. The sound was very satisfying, leaving us with a sense of confidence with brio.

The program was actually only a part of the program, I feel. Either that or Denis was in a really good mood because he then proceeded to perform what was at least six encore pieces.

An interpretation of Duke Ellington’s Take The A-Train … was spell-bounding and just plain fun to listen to! Although improvised, it was still played stunningly accurate. The solo improvisational skills displayed were off the charts! He also has this technique where he aggressively clicks his heel almost like a metronome or drum beat. I have never seen a piano performance that exciting!

A fantastic show no doubt!

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

Matsuev Exciting and Confident at Sanders

by Jim McDonald

Pianist Denis Matsuev played to a packed house at Sanders Theater on Saturday night, summoning massive sounds and structural force, while at other times conjuring the most diaphanous lines and textures. He clearly enjoys playing, and the feel of being at the piano. The opening chords to Haydn’s Piano Sonata, No. 52 in E-flat Major, Hob XVI/52 (his last) were startling in their sheer weight, but balanced nonetheless, and Matsuev did back off immediately, propelling the work forward to reveal line, arc, and form, sections of differentiated sound moving forward in time. The three-blind-mice-sounding 2nd theme of the first movement brought notable contrast with no attempts at cuteness, as did the finely phrased and arced 2nd movement. The last movement probably set a speed record, but it was not at all rushed. Time enough for the pianist to add some personal embellishments. Exciting, controlled classical sonata playing, assertive and confident.

Two Rachmaninoff Preludes followed, also without pause. The G-sharp minor then the famous G minor. The latter was a huge, relentless outpouring of sound. Despite the mass of sound, we heard here, as with the opening of the Schumann, this interpreterv’s ability to present piano music symphonically, inner voices and chords having a different controlled attack than outer. Impressive.

But ours jaws dropped as much as the registers of the piano for the final encore, Liszt’s Transcendental Etude S. 139, “Appassionata.” The pianist pummeled us with sound, speed, and power. It left me reeling, the crowd on its feet, and Matsuev? He looked refreshed, ready for a night on the town.

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