Reviews on Australian and Singapore Tour of Denis Matsuev with Valery Gergiev and LSO

November 28 2014

1. London Symphony Orchestra, Program 2

Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, November 25


Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 is the is closest thing to a warhorse on the London Symphony Orchestra's historic tour of Australia, and the hall was packed to hear it, alongside Shostakovich's 10th symphony. From the start soloist Denis Matsuev, known as the "Siberian bear", demonstrated tight, comprehensive mastery, blocking the tenths of the opening chords with his massive hands, and giving them shape and colour, as if they were mere triads. It set the tone for the entire performance: rather than battling to climb a pianistic mountain, with risks and slips on the way, Matsuev seemed to stride across the work. That's not to say he made it sound easy – the final movement had me on the edge of my seat, boggling at the tempo – but he appeared to be able to play it, give us his interpretation, even reflect upon it, as well as just survive.



Denis Matsuev plays with bravura, and the concerto provided an ideal vehicle to show off pianistic ability. He excelled in the percussive and dramatic passages, and was no less convincing in lyrical sections, and totally revelled in the glissandos. As much as he was dazzling in his control and massive dynamics, a fully satisfying performance of the concerto calls for greater regard for the splashes of irony, levity and delicacy to be found in the writing.


LSO under Valery Gergiev demonstrate thrill of playing for their lives

It was the same in the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto, with virtuoso Denis Matsuev making the old warhorse sound new and modern, despite a dodgy piano. Eschewing the thumping that Rachmaninov’s post-psychotherapy pages of black ink usually encourage, Matsuev went for subtlety and nuance, and it sounded all the more dramatic for that. On the final note he leapt to his feet, we leapt to our feet, amazed, and it was a long time before rational thought could be restored.

Sydney Opera House, November 24-26; Arts Centre Melbourne, November 28


Review: Program 2 (London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev)

by Clive Paget 

Romance and sheer murder rub shoulders in a searing Russian program.

For their second Sydney concert, the LSO presented two giants of Russian classical music – Rachmaninov and Shostakovich. Denis Matsuev was the soloist for Rachmaninov’s hyper-emotional Second Piano Concerto. Considered something of a Russian bear, a quick check of his Facebook page reveals his softer side with a snap yesterday showing him clearly delighted with an Australian cousin.

Dwarfing the keyboard, the Russian pianist crouched low for most of what is probably the most romantic of all romantic piano concertos. I was, perhaps, surprised at how controlled he was early on – restrained and easy on the rubato. 

If Matsuev had been on the aural back foot at times in the opening movement, he was very much on the money in the famous Adagio, playing with firmness and passion. His muscly hands wrang every ounce out of Rachmaninov's melodies. Gergiev’s physical and vocal exhortations (did I mention he's a grunter – rather like his predecessor Sir Colin Davis) became an elegant dance, arms sweeping in ecstasy, fluttering hands crafting every twist and turn. Those who had heard his Prokofiev the previous night knew what to expect from a Gergiev finale, and again this was gripping stuff, pacey, urgent and nuanced. Matsuev matched him bar for bar, and when it came to the big theme it was suitably emotionally devastating. A well-deserved standing ovation tempted the soloist to return for a surprisingly comedic encore – a delicate whirl through Liadov’s Musical Snuffbox.


Pianist Denis Matsuev plays with elemental energy, making a sound at the piano that combines overpowering mastery of a classical technique laced with some of the wispy and percussive qualities of jazz. Demonic in quick music, musically absorbed in slow, he mesmerised the audience with his performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Valery Gergiev with commanding concentration and incisiveness.

Although of large frame and a player of powerful force, his tone in fast music is spiky and brittle, penetrating rather than domineering. In the more reflective music and in the set of variations in the slow movement, the timbres were pearly and translucent. Yet although a huge pianistic personality, his style is not so much flamboyant as possessed. When he sat down for his first encore (the second was a Prelude by Rachmaninoff) the harmonic style hinted at the Prokofiev concerto just played. But after some well modulated metric gear shifts and jazz rhythms, it became clear that this was an improvisation, and the audience listened in fascinated astonishment as the music accelerated into manic impetuousness and virtuosity.

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