sat 18/11/2017

Dmitri Alexeev, St John's Smith Square review - a Titan at 70 | reviews, news & interviews

Dmitri Alexeev, St John's Smith Square review - a Titan at 70

Dmitri Alexeev, St John's Smith Square review - a Titan at 70

Russian orchestral pianism applied to large-scale Chopin, Scriabin and Schumann

Alexeev: as powerful as everJohn Garfield

You won't have seen much of magisterial Russian pianist Dmitri Alexeev recently, unless you happen to be a student at the Royal College of Music, where he is Professor of Advanced Piano Studies (they were out in force last night, cheering enough to elicit five encores). His guest appearances at various commemorative concerts, chiefly his towering interpretation of Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata, remain carved in the mind, but this is the first time I've heard him give a full recital. Predictably, although he celebrated his 70th birthday in August, there was no loss of the colossal and well-weighted force which has always been a hallmark.

It's true that he doesn't adapt the sound to the individual composer. While Elisabeth Leonskaja, fellow disciple in the Russian school of orchestral pianism, can lighten up in the early romantic repertoire, you feel Alexeev is chiselling Chopin and Schumann into the granite shapes he prefers. There was undeniable physical impact, from the first, perfecty placed chords of Chopin's late Polonaise-Fantaisie and the poetry rising from them at the start of the programme to the triumphant last of Schumann's Études Symphoniques at the official end. But instead of crystalline flights of fancy, Alexeev tends to stick to well-weighted impact.

In all major, intricately-wrought pianistic epics, the composer and soloist need to know when to become simple

Thanks to his inimitable technique, and frequent but careful use of the sustaining pedal, the sound never becomes brittle or muddy; the forcefulness is spell-binding, and there aren't many pianists who can produce a resonance that goes right through your body as you sit at some distance from the stage.

Best was the riveting (and riveted) sequence of Scriabin's early 24 Preludes, Op. 11. Dating from 1888 to 1896, they can be detached from the final sequence, but none works so well out of context, and there was as much magic in the timing with which Alexeev followed one with another, hands and the rest of the body beating or feeling the energised space between, as in the relationships between these mostly miniature gems. In all major, intricately-wrought pianistic epics, the composer and soloist need to know when to become simple; with Alexeev, the stripped-away essence came in the left-hand theme which launches No. 15 in D flat major, very much of a piece with its misterioso B flat minor successor.

The necessary demonic element was here, too; it was fascinating to hear so Dionysiac a pianist two days after the Apollonian inwardness of Leif Ove Andsnes. And while what turned out to be a chain of encores, Alexeev visibly responding to the enthusiasm as if his body couldn't help but turn back to the keyboard again and again, started in calm with the exquisite first of Schumann's Op. 99 Bunte Blätter, its peak, placed between vibrant Chopin waltz and mazurka, offered the most tumultuous playing of all in Scriabin's D sharp minor Etude from Op. 8. On this evidence Alexeev could play all 10 Scriabin sonatas in an evening and not show any signs of exhaustion.

There aren't many pianists who can produce a resonance that goes right through your body

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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