Denis Matsuev, p.: The Carnegie Hall Concert = SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen; LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major; LIADOV: The Musical Snuff Box; SCRIABIN: Etude in D-sharp Minor; GRIEG: Hall of the Mt. King – RCA

by | Dec 24, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Denis Matsuev: The Carnegie Hall Concert = SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen, Op. 15;  LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83; LIADOV: The Musical Snuff Box, Op. 32; SCRIABIN: Etude in D-sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12; GRIEG: In the Hall of the Mountain King (arr. Ginzburg) – Denis Matsuev, piano – RCA 88697291462, 78:35 ****:

The Carnegie Hall recital (17 November 2007) of Russian pianist Denis Matsuev (b. 1975) reveals another young virtuoso–and winner of the Gold Medal at the 1998 Tchaikovsky Competition–aspiring to “the mantle of Vladimir Horowitz,” even having programmed the Schumann Scenes from Childhood, from which the No. 7 Traumerai provided the eternal Horowitz encore. Matsuev opts for a slow deliberate tempo in the opening Of Foreign Lands and Peoples, and for the ensuing Curious Story as well, perhaps to establish the fairy-land sensibility that infiltrates this thirteen-movement pastiche to the child in us all. A lovely piano tone from Matsuev’s Steinway in the B Minor Haschemann episode, courtesy of producer Philipp Nedal. Three-hand effects in striking harmony mark the D Major Glueckes genug section. The maerchen Wichtige Begebenheit swaggers and gently reels into the tender Dreaming, which Matsuev milks for all its delicate reveries. The Knight of the Rocking Horse approaches the demonic character depicted in a story by D.H. Lawrence. Fast zu Ernst suggests how Matsuev might perform the second movement from Schumann’s A Minor Concerto. The Child Falls Asleep with a hint of agitation, until the calm Voice of the Poet, G Major, assures us that all is well.

The Liszt B Minor (1853), long a Horowitz staple, seems to be making its impact felt once more, if this performance and that of Yuja Wang (DGG B0012534-02) are any indication. Matsuev injects his own ritards into the first full statement of Liszt’s main theme, whose constant variety of presentation saturates the piece, a series of avatars on its own becoming. Matsuev immediately cascades to a blazing permutation of this theme, grand, heroic, monumental and almost docile at once. The staccato incarnation seems already to seek the contrapuntal treatment it receives later. Quite cognizant of structure, Matsuev illuminates the D Major episodes to counter the gravitas of B Minor as it has moved from exposition to development and recapitulation, Liszt’s iconoclastic concession to classical procedures.  The liquid runs and brilliant, even demonic octave work bespeak a grand master at work, completely absorbed in Liszt’s alternately inflated and intimate rhetoric, as though this piece were the sine qua non of piano sonatas–which it may well be.

More Horowitz, this time by way of Prokofiev’s “War Sonata” No. 7 in B-flat Major, premiered by Sviatoslav Richter in 1943. Coming hard on the heels of the Liszt, the Prokofiev seems as wicked as the cruel times to which it responds and resists. Vituperous staccati in march rhythm alternate with broken shards, legato, the musings on more humane sensibilities. Matsuev throws away any desire for “objectivity” in this pulverizing, passionately controlled performance. In the midst of angst, despair, and global torment, this is an essentially lyric spirit that must endure. The tearful Andante caloroso finds a sympathetic executor in Matsuev, who plays its grave beauties as a lilting etched song which seeks to commune with Juliet from the composer’s ballet. A blistering third movement, Precipitato, urges a toccata of uncommon girth and savage irony. The layerings increase, as does the feral intensity, until both pianist and audience virtually explode in each other’s near-hysterical presence.


The recorded recital preserves three of the four encores Matsuev bestowed upon his ardent listeners. Liadov’s little Snuff Box tinkles and curtseys in the middle of the air, a sharp relief to the percussive Prokofiev that had just swept by. Fiery passions once more prevail in the D-sharp Minor Etude of Scriabin, molten lava poured over the black keys. That the Steinway did not burn up testifies to its sturdy soundboard. To calm a delirious audience, Matsuev tosses off Grigory Ginzburg’s flaming transcription of  “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt, easily accomplishing in ever-accelerating virtuosity and sonority what a full orchestra and chorus must strain to achieve. The New Yorkers are still cheering.

–Gary Lemco

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