His Chopin demonstrated this. In the Second Sonata, his rock-solid technique gave him the best of foundations, yet a consistent rejection of all but the simplest rubato, and an absence of true pianissimo playing, gave a literal, pedestrian feel. Whereas Uchida (earlier in this Harrods series) was always at pains to show the melodic implications of harmonic change in Chopin, Rudy plays his Chopin four-square, and straight; so keen is he to demonstrate strength and solidity he never seems willing to soften for Chopins undoubted feminine side.
Uchidas Chopin is always poised between intellectual disdain and emotional hysteria; Rudys, particularly in the unadvertised Nocturne, with which he leavened the emotion of the two funeral march sonatas, was more like a man sitting down contentedly after dinner with stilton and a glass of port. Thus, the sonatas first movement was impressively exact but dispatched with little feeling, the scherzo prosaic, the lyrical trio of the slow movement leaden, and the mysterious finale gruff but ultimately empty. Too often, Rudy just played the notes. The marche funebre itself was the most successful, delivered with gravitas and metronomic precision, with all the weight and menace of the footsteps of Death.
In this respect, the equally tragic Janacek had been a promising start to the recital; Rudys analysis gave clarity to the score and dignity to its subject - the politically-significant death of a demonstrator in 1905. There is no doubt - one hesitates to say this is stereotypically Russian that Rudy was most at home with high seriousness, even the portentous, not with lightness, irony or wit.
The set of Wagner transcriptions and Wagners rarely-heard original piece confirmed this opinion. Rudy brought out Meistersingers distinct vocal lines with lucidity, dealt easily with the immense technical demands of the Liebestod, but completely overwhelmed the delicate Black Swan albumblatt. He made no particular case for listening to Wagner outside of the original operatic context, though the statement of the leitmotif in the Quintet transcription was successfully achieved.
Performing Schumann is not straightforward. His heroic paragraphs too easily sound bucolic or bombastic, his lyrical vulnerability as compositional weakness. Schumanns transitions are sometimes jarring or ill-judged; he needs a sympathetic interpreter to bring out the best in this most human of all composers for the piano. Rudy fell into all the traps. He did indeed play Etudes symphoniques as studies, and as a piece of symphonic grandeur - not though as a personal or exploratory work. His relentless, tense interpretation brought little illumination. Rudy was too often over-percussive (etudes V and I), too heavy (etude IX and the first posthumous variation), over-driven (etude X) or simply lacking in charm (etude II). Again he was at his best where the precision and accuracy of his playing could elucidate passages of virtuosic difficulty (etude VI). As is common, he interpolated the five posthumous variations as a group - but their inclusion only extended his performance and underlined that his performance rarely paused to rest let alone breathe.
Unusually, Rudy played the original 1837 version of the finale. Schumanns revisions usually ironed-out the novelty of his first thoughts. Rudy revealed the harmonic strangeness of these unfamiliar bars and ended an otherwise predictable recital with a moment of inspiration.
- Gianluca Cascioli gives the next Harrods recital on Tuesday, June 5, in the QEH. He plays Bach, Beethoven, Boulez and Debussy
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- Book Online: www.rfh.org.uk