Alexander Moutouzkine

Harmonies poétiques et religieuses – Funérailles
Schubert transcribed Liszt
Die Schöne Müllerin – Trockne Blumen; Schwanengesang – Das Fischermädchen
Chopin transcribed Liszt
Chants polonaises – My Darling; The Wish
Années de pèlerinage (Année II – Italie) – Après une lecture du Dante (Fantasia quasi Sonata)
Sonata in B minor

Alexander Moutouzkine (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth A. Clifford

Reviewed: 3 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Russian pianist Alexander Moutouzkine (born 1980) opened his Liszt recital with ‘Funérailles’ from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. Written in 1849, it is widely thought that this is Liszt’s tribute to the Hungarians who were executed in October of that year – particularly Lajos Bethany, the first Prime Minister of Hungary who was killed along with thirteen of his generals after the failure of the 1848-49 Hungarian Revolution. Technically speaking, Moutouzkine was up to the job but this very dark and piercing work also holds moments of solemn beauty in its dolce sections where Moutouzkine’s contrasts in sound were never enough. The opening melody, written in chords, lacked substance – mainly because too much focus was placed on the top note of each. (Krystian Zimerman’s recording of the work for Deutsche Grammophon illustrates how giving equal weight and focus to the lower voices can help create heightened tension and excitement.) Here, Moutouzkine’s use of rubato too often seemed contrived and much of his phrasing lacked any real sense of direction.

Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert songs better suited Moutouzkine where he introduced a beautifully warm tone to the inner-voices and outer harmonies. The Chopin transcriptions modelled facets of charm, which are essential in these often-underestimated miniatures.

Moutouzkine’s account of the ‘Dante Sonata’ reintroduced us to the difficulties he had encountered with Funérailles. The opening octaves (a tritone referred to in medieval times as ‘diabolus in musica’ – the devil in music) failed to evoke the horror intended and unfortunately his dramatic first statement – which never possessed the sense of grandeur it deserves, is continually reintroduced throughout the work. While Moutouzkine’s tempos were at times daring, most of the harmonic tension that ought to be communicated seemed locked fast within his physical being. This performance did not transcend the technical demands of the work to unlock the real treachery of Dante’s ‘Inferno’. Instead the magnificent waves of sound that could be produced in the double octave passages were stilted and horizontal because of Moutouzkine’s under-use of pedal. An overall lack of imagination and experimentation caused the work’s optimistic, celestial moments to be in too close a proximity with its imagery of doom and neither mood had a dramatic enough effect as a result.

The B minor Sonata stood alone in the second half of the recital and Moutouzkine had more to say in this master-work than in any of the previous pieces. He channelled his power in a rounder yet more focused way and managed to resist the temptation to attack the instrument in the fortissimo passages. However, Moutouzkine did tend to shy away in volume and spirit from the work’s climaxes – most notably in the first Grandioso section where one ought to expand and take time in the build-up to this initial statement in the relative major. Instead he ploughed straight through as though he were trying to keep in time with a metronome and therefore failed to feel a real sense of arrival having reached some of the work’s most significant points. However, the Sonata’s many treacherous technical challenges were safe in the hands of Moutouzkine who never took his foot off the accelerator to accommodate himself.

Liszt’s music can easily sound trivial if the performer does not wholeheartedly submerge into it. While Moutouzkine has all the technical ingredients of a fine Liszt performer, he does not appear to be convinced of what he is trying to communicate.

Encores from Shostakovich and Villa-Lobos sandwiched an arrangement of “Silent Night”.

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