Mikhail Pletnev is a frequent visitor to the Edinburgh Festival, here playing Rachmaninov. There is nothing of the showman about Pletnev; he is so cool and collected that when he comes into the room he’s like a professor entering to share his thoughts with his students.
From the opening bars of the famous C-sharp minor Prelude his approach was measured and idiosyncratic, almost as if one was hearing this piece anew. In his first-half sequence of a dozen or so selections, including from the sets of Preludes, Morceaux de fantaisie and Etudes-tableaux, Pletnev ranged between romanticism without being at all sentimental and modernist, transforming the salon pieces into being worthy of serious consideration – wistful and eccentric, sometimes looking back to Mussorgsky. The Preludes were profound, given in grand style, and also picturesque – a rippling mountain stream, or the first snow of winter, or Russian plains, or bells ringing. Elsewhere there were many colours, magical tones, and not without a mischief.
Rachmaninov’s First Piano Sonata, from the same period as the Second Symphony, and with a Faustian basis, is weak in its material and therefore overlong. However, Pletnev made a great case for it by creating numerous evocations, and was particularly thoughtful in the slow movement, reminiscent of early Scriabin and Tchaikovsky. The Finale was demonically striking, as well as reprising material from earlier, before closing optimistically. Throughout Pletnev was masterly and full of panache, conjuring crystal-clear textures from the Shigeru Kawai concert grand, and as an encore he offered further Rachmaninov, his Oriental Sketch.
- Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards)