Vesselin Stanev at Wigmore Hall [Brahms, Schumann & Liszt]

Klavierstücke, Op.76
Humoreske, Op.20
Piano Sonata in B minor

Vesselin Stanev (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 25 May, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Vesselin Stanev. Phoptograph: www.vesselin-stanev.comVesselin Stanev was born in 1964 in Bulgaria. He has recorded for Balkanton and has now been signed up by Sony. He seems to favour the Romantic era, so it was hardly surprising that he chose three giants from that period for this Wigmore Hall recital. It is unusual to play all of Brahms’s Opus 76 Piano Pieces at a single sitting, for there is a danger that the listener will feel water-boarded if the performer fails to bring these subdued pieces to life. The opening Capriccio was fine – with rubato, a flowing tempo, conversation between the hands and dynamic variation. In the next Capriccio the tempo was slightly too slow, as it was in the first Intermezzo, in which the second theme almost ground to a halt. The B flat Intermezzo is marked Allegretto grazioso and once again Stanev was very slow. Rather worryingly, it was almost apparent that there was no tonal shading, just a broad wash of over-pedalled sound. And so it continued, the Agitato, ma non troppo presto marking of the Fifth Piece was completely ignored, and the A minor Intermezzo needed more fantasy.

It was rather unfortunate that the programme note listed the sixteen different tempo and mood markings in Schumann’s Humoreske, for Stanev proceeded to ignore most of them. The sound he produced was also no different to the Brahms, which again demonstrated that his tonal palette is very limited and the pedalling was, at best, over-enthusiastic. Nowhere did he suggest the way in which Schumann’s music can change from bar-to-bar, there was a lack of fantasy, stiff fingering, a limited dynamic range, slow tempos, Stanev being far too restrained and cautious.

Liszt’s B minor Piano Sonata is one of the supreme masterpieces and it takes a rare talent to make it sound uneventful, as Stanev did. In terms of speed he was – given what had gone before – surprisingly fast, but once again the sound was bland and over-pedalled. The opening was laboured and the great chorale-like grandioso fourth theme (there are six in all) devoid of shape. As so often in the recital Stanev seemed to lose focus and, even when playing at speed, sounded too careful. In the slow section there was no real emotion or poetry, the start of the fugato sounded rather prissy, the tremendous, furious approach to the penultimate statement of the grandiose theme was – somehow – underwhelming and its final appearance brought no sense of exultation and triumph, while the final lines lacked other-worldliness and were too loud.

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