During the last year-or-so, I haven’t had the opportunity and the inclination to go to a concert. Where I happened to be, was not the place for a good concert as I imagined it. Last week, however, I thought I could listen to Dmitri Alexeev’s piano recital in the Musis Sacrum in Arnhem (4th October). Unfortunately, my friends were unable to come with me, so this is only going to be based on my impressions.
Well, the Russian pianist, who is Artist in Residence here this season, gave it a slow start. It was not that I missed the wild heroics and gesticulations of some other players. It was just far from my ideals. For a start, Schumann’s Blumenstück Op.19 was not a really inspired performance. Sounds were washed together, or away, by a little bit too much use of the pedal, dynamics were not really there. It was just decently performed.
Schumann’s first sonata Op.11 followed in quite similar fashion. The use of the pedals ruined quite much, and sometimes the contrasts within the movements were so huge as if new pieces were played. The slow, contemplative mood fortunately suited the second movement, so that was nicely played. The performance rose to the occasion in the last movement, where I felt some proper excitement, the modulations of mood were not over-emphasized or missing, it was good enough, I was simply missing something that I usually have listening to a performance by Martha Argerich, or Ránki Dezső, not to mention old recordings by Richter. Even so, Alexeev received the usual standing ovation before the interval.
In the second part, two paraphrases by Liszt on Wagner followed: first the Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhäuser, then Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Here we witnessed the high level of piano technique of the pianist at its best. Both pieces were impressively performed, no mistake about that. But without something that an outstanding pianist may have added, the special touch perhaps, which I missed the whole night.
Liszt’s paraphrases on four liederen by Schubert was nothing special. I did not feel high elevations of feelings, expressiveness, only decent performance. To tell you the truth, I slowly became bored towards the fourth piece. Which feeling carried on to Die Lorelei by Liszt afterwards.
The last piece was Chopin’s Chant Polonais, which I had never knew existed, in a transcription by Liszt. Well, I cannot tell if it was because the piece did not really merit wide popularity, or because Liszt’s version did not add enough to it, or because the pianist did not have anything to add to the interpretation, but I felt a bit lost about what was going on in this piece. It did not really sound like a Chopin polonnaise, it was technically demanding enough but lacked a good structure and again that special touch.
I must admit that I can never resist a good inner laugh when I see the reaction of the Arnhem audience to any performance that I witness there. Within 5 seconds of the bows of the artist, some people are on their feet at the front, and the others follow suit, whatever the performance. I feel that this behaviour belongs to this audience just as noise belongs to most – though not all – audiences in China. I cannot escape it. I feel this behaviour degrades the really great performances, that of Kocsis and Kelemen Barnabas two and a half years ago, or that of Denis Kozhukhin two years ago (almost to the day). Those were really outstanding performances, and Radu Lupu had that special touch last year too, but this performance was just a decent performance. What were they enthusing so much about, I was wondering.
Even so, Dmitri Alexeev was glad to give three encores, by Liszt. As to me, those were also nicely performed, by the professionalism of a performer with a long history of great days, but his whole concert remained a far cry from what I feel to be a great evening. Though I remain thankful that he did not act with the mannerisms of Lang Lang, who I fight in vain seeing on the Dutch music television channel, Brava, which is very annoying. But I doubt the audience would not have minded even that. Alexeev got the standing ovation till the end, no matter what happened. However, I have resolved to see Grigory Sokolov next May 13th, even though his program is still not known. I suppose that concert will be better and then I can give a more uplifting review.