Harrods International Piano Series 2000-1 – Mikhail Rudy

Sonata 1.x.1905 (From the Street)
Nocturne in E minor Op.72/1
Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.35
Wagner trans. Hans von Bülow
Quintet from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
The Arrival of the Black Swan
Wagner trans. Rudy
Prelude to Act 3 – Tristan und Isolde
Wagner trans. Liszt
Isolde’s Liebestod (Tristan und Isolde)
Etudes symphoniques Op.13

Mikhail Rudy

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 24 May, 2001
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Mikhail Rudy aspires to being a pianist in the great Russian tradition. He plays in the monumental, marmoreal fashion that reminds of Richter and Gilels. He has their iron-technique and heroic determination. Sadly, he fails to scale their heights. His playing is centred and grounded; so grounded it remains earth-bound, as if resolutely refusing the possibility of magic or poetry. His impeccable arm-weight and directness of delivery produced wonderful bell-like forte and fortissimo tones, but any corresponding delicacy or finer sensibility was quite absent.

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 Chopin’s undoubted feminine side.

Uchida’s Chopin is always poised between intellectual disdain and emotional hysteria; Rudy’s, 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 sonata’s 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; Rudy’s 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 Wagner’s rarely-heard original piece confirmed this opinion. Rudy brought out Meistersinger’s 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. Schumann’s 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. Schumann’s 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
  • Box Office: 020 7960 4201
  • Book Online: www.rfh.org.uk

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