18 Pieces, Op.72
Nocturne in C sharp minor, Op. posth
Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
Recorded live in June 2004 at the Tonhalle, Zurich
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: May 2005
CD No: DG 477 5378
Duration: 70 minutes
“All of Tchaikovsky is here,” Pletnev is quoted as saying of these pieces, the composer’s last completed piano works. These pieces are almost unknown – few Tchaikovsky piano works outside of The Seasons are ever aired. They could not have a better advocate – Mikhail Pletnev is dramatically virtuosic and meltingly lyrical by turns; he makes a compelling case for performing the whole set as a cycle of character pieces.
This performance is full of felicities – the opening Impromptu is winningly playful, the Scherzo-fantaisie rich and heroic. Pletnev does us a service by introducing us to melodic simplicity (Danse caractéristique), immediate attractiveness (the rhythms of Polacca de concert) and dramatic flair (Scène dansante). The recorded sound is also full and bright – impeccably beautiful piano tone, both artistically and technologically.
It goes without saying that Pletnev plays these pieces effortlessly, and with passionate commitment, and that he can change from extrovert dance-rhythms to yearning reflection in a moment. It must have been a spellbinding concert to attend. Pletnev’s own words within the booklet note also bring to the fore his own philosophy of interpretation: that there is no conflict between analysis and emotion or between precision and expressiveness. In exemplifying these aspects, also, the disc is a triumphant success.
DG is to be congratulated on this repertoire-broadening CD, so attractively presented. However, in the end, the very nature of the music itself is questioned. I simply do not respond with the same reverence as Pletnev; I am not as sympathetic to the composer’s amalgam of Russian and Western European. The Chopin Nocturne, played as an encore, and with extraordinary command of velveteen tone and melodic line, does not feel out of place, but is all the more welcome as a change; Tchaikovsky’s Un poco di Chopin is far inferior to his model, just as Un poco di Schumann feels similarly secondary. Chopin, as this Nocturne shows, had an instinct for motivic transformation and seamless linear flow, which I cannot hear in the Tchaikovsky pieces. Despite their formidable champion in Pletnev, I am not wholly convinced by this corpus of Tchaikovsky’s piano music; there are hidden treasures aplenty on this CD, but not an overall consistency of compositional imagination.