Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Denis Matsuev (piano)
Reviewed by: David Cowling
Reviewed: 4 October, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The Russian piano school has in recent times produced a host of pianists capable of playing with great (and sometimes excessive) strength and conviction, yet even among these luminaries the brilliantly accomplished and self-assured Denis Matsuev stands out. His Tchaikovsky certainly packs a punch, as was resoundingly clear from the confident, even strident treatment of the Concerto’s famous opening, but it was also offset by moments of impressive delicacy.
Matsuev is most obviously persuasive in passages which demand show-stopping virtuosity. Having a technical facility the envy of most pianists, the frenzied, sparkling fingerwork was so spectacular it could seem occasionally to emerge savagely and without warning from the languid, caressing reflections immediately preceding. For all the stunning athleticism of the climaxes it was the intimacy he managed to create during the first-movement cadenza, not to mention the singing tone he maintained throughout the plaintive second, which was truly disarming. Such features demonstrated a keen awareness of the music’s emotional import, which in some of his previous performances his unquestioned talent may have somewhat obscured.
Acknowledging the rapturous reception, as an encore Matsuev underlined his talents with a charmingly well-judged performance of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Meditation’, the fifth piece of Opus 72. Rather than the exaggerated Grieg and Rossini arrangements Matsuev has recently favoured, the piece, which nostalgically recalls the romanticism of Schumann, reminded that although he is more immediately identifiable for his devil-may-care virtuosity, Matsuev is also distinguished by poetry and depth.
A more grounded and modest interpretation was offered in the Brahms, not always inspired. Respectful and proportioned playing prevailed, the Philharmonia Orchestra taking time to warm to its task. Yuri Temirkanov was calm and disciplined throughout, guiding the music through its tumultuous passages, the soloists lending the work an admirable sense of unity and definition. In spite of such dependability, this unadventurous reading left a nagging sense of a missed opportunity.