tue 18/02/2020

Daniel Grimwood, Miroslav Kultyshev, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Daniel Grimwood, Miroslav Kultyshev, Wigmore Hall

Daniel Grimwood, Miroslav Kultyshev, Wigmore Hall

Cascades of notes and pianistic depths in two virtuoso piano recitals

Felix Blumenfeld, Russian-trained composer kicking off two evenings of virtuoso pianismRichard Beattie Davis Collection
It seemed as if the usually sober Wigmore Hall was trying to shower us with as many pianistic notes as possible before the midnight bell rings in the New Year. More could hardly have been accommodated In two recitals on Monday and Wednesday evenings, when modest British virtuoso Daniel Grimwood was followed by 2007 Tchaikovsky Competition winner Miroslav Kultyshev in tackling a gaggle of densely-packed baggy monsters. It wasn't just the name of Felix Blumenfeld which was unfamiliar; I suspect musical trainspotters had a field day collecting two major but long-retired opuses by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov.

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I went to both concerts, and I don't agree with your write up on either. The Russian was distracting visually with his on-stage acting and insincere attempts at profundity, and frankly his Liszt was overblown in places and tepid in others. It had none of the fiery bravura that one should hear (and not see) and left me feeling rather cheated. By comparison, Grimwood's Liszt in other recitals (at the Wigmore for example) is fresh, inspired and discerningly musical, with a real sense of shape and verve. Technically, he can't be matched - but this is a moot point when playing Liszt: one has to move far beyond the notes to reach the real message in this sort of music, and your pet Russian simply didn't achieve that. I must say that I get the feeling from your writing that like many English critics, you lack confidence when faced with native Russian playing music from his homeland. Sadly, so many musicians and writers become critically impotent in the face of the Russian school of playing these days. The Cold War artistic reputation of excellence that was so rightly deserved for years has dropped away in the last 20 years, and Russia and other former Soviet states now church out little virtuosic monsters at an alarming rate. But few of them have much soul in their playing, and even fewer truly understand the stylistic inflections and flavours that doff their caps to the flavours of Italian and French schools of writing and playing, to name just two. I think here you have succumbed to the malady of confusion from smoke and mirrors: just because someone tosses their head about and stares at an apparently fascinating ceiling as he plays doesn't mean that anything deeper than self-flattery is going on. In addition, just because you have a Russian playing Russian music doesn't mean that it is stylistically correct (it wasn't) or artistically inspired (it definitely wasn't). For all his "praying" and other on stage melodramatics, I was left feeling that this constant state of movement was designed to overload the eyes with conflicting signals that were supposed to deceive the ears. Thankfully, it didn't work with me: I've spend most of my life watching the old greats from Russia wherever possible, and continue to be struck by the vision of men and women sitting incisively and intent at their keyboards as any supreme master does at his workbench. Complete mastery knows that ego does not belong alongside great work: a point that Kultyshev would do well to remember - his flouncing and posturing simply won't do. Give me Grimwood's un-egged, simple presence any day: it just reinforces the fact that this level of performance makes the artist into a channel through which the music passes to the audience - and nothing more. The fact that Grimwood has such a deep understanding of Russian music and style is even more remarkable given that he is English - if anything, your critique would be better served at drawing attention to this extraordinary diamond of a player rather than paying lip-service to paste past off as Faberge.

Cor - what a swingeing but accurate rendition from the commenter above - why are English critics so hoodwinked by "foreign" performers: it makes us look like such amateurs. I'm sure it is something to do with a subconscious belief that music is something done best by everyone apart from the English - though apart from musicians like Grimwood and his cello partner Jamie Walton, the English fare offered these days is either reedy and tepid, or brash and unrefined...

Of course you are entitled to your point of view but it won't change mine. It's unfair to assert that I'm hoodwinked by Russian 'exoticism' or that the ear is deceived by what the eye sees. I heard depth in Kultyshev's playing; I was interested in Grimwood's approach and admired his fingerwork but wasn't comparably touched. That may have something to do with the programme. If you can't have respect for differening opinions and experience, too bad.

To day at Finchcoks in Kent I heard Daniel Grimwood play a piece by Alkan "Train mecanique" ( if I got the name right ) which I had never heard before, yet I was very familiar with Alkan's compositions ( Thanks to Ronald Smith and Marc Andre Hamelin) An impressive modern/mecanical piece which could have been composed quite recently and not in the XIXth c. Could anyone tell me if this piece has been recorded by anyone else, (D.Grimwood has not,not yet ) Thanks for awaited info,T.W.

Just stumbled across this. I've read all the comments with interest and some amusement! Objective musical criticism is, of course, an impossibility; our art form is purely subjective. David is absolutely right that we are all entitled to our points of view, and any artist knows that one can't please all the people all the time, and any critic knows that there will always be those who disagree with their conclusions. The value of the critical profession is that it opens dialogues, and sometimes illuminates aspects of performance that the artist may not have conceived. As to the comments about movement and posture etc. all pianists evolve unique ways with the instrument. I'm simply not very good at multi-tasking and find that I can't concentrate if I move very much! That particular programme was formulated not as an audience pleaser, but as a tribute and memorial to my dear and sorely missed friend, Richard Beattie Davis. I'm aware that as a programme, it was hardly self-flattering; I don't think anyone could claim that the Rachmaninoff D minor Sonata is easy listening! A rugged, unpolished masterpiece it is, and is well worth the odd airing. My aim of arousing some interest in Blumenfeld seems to have been fulfilled so I'm happy. Tatiana, many thanks for coming to my birthday concert at Finchcocks, Alkan's 'le Chemin de Fer' is recorded on Naxos with quite an interesting selection of other works. It is hard to believe that it belongs to the nineteenth century isn't it!?

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