A dazzling evening with Russian piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev

By Raymond Beegle
Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Photo credit: Matthew J. Lee / BOSTON GLOBE

Photo credit: Matthew J. Lee / BOSTON GLOBE

STRAVINSKY:    Three Movements from Pétrouchka
                            Danse russe
                            Chez Petrouchka
                            La semainne grace
TCHAIKOVSKY:  The Seasons, Op. 37b
SCHUMANN:    Kreisleriana Op. 16

Carnegie Hall
Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

Anyone who walks on the stage of Carnegie Hall at the invitation of the Carnegie Hall Corporation has an armory of credentials including, of course, a fabulous technique, praise from the press, and adoration from the public. Tonight it was the turn of Denis Matsuev, the possessor of such credentials, to walk on stage, and proceed to reestablish what he is as an artist and what he is praised for. A dazzling performance of Stravinsky’s Pétrouchka brought cheers from the house, and they were well deserved. The bold rhythmic force, the overwhelming quantity of sound he produced and sustained over such an extended period of time, were indeed heroic and praiseworthy. 

There was a price to be paid, however, for the effects that won Matsuev the ovation that followed, and that price was evident in the prior works of Tchaikovsky and Schumann. The brutal force employed in the relentless succession of chords in Pétrouchka has taken a toll on the pianist’s ability to execute the rapid lyric passages that occur from time to time in The Seasons, and that are an integral part of Kreisliriana. As well, the suppleness, the romantic vision and sense of impromptu essential in Tchaikovsky’s smaller romantic piano works, were not evident in this very 21st century pianist’s reading. This was due primarily to a rather limited range of tone, a lack of suppleness in the musical line, and perhaps a lack of genuine poetry in the musician’s disposition.     

Schumann’s Kreisleriana, with its innate demand for beauty of sound and graceful, flowing rubato, suffered from these defects as well. The subtle nuances of tone, of tempo, of voicing, of phrasing, suggested by the composer throughout the score, were not so subtle this evening, nor were they particularly poetic.
Sometimes there is a terrible price to pay for a standing ovation.

Raymond Beegle reviews classical music and opera for the New York Observer and Fanfare Magazine. For many years he was Contributing Editor of Opera Quarterly, the Classic Record Collector (UK), and also appeared on The Today Show (NBC) and Good Morning America (CBS). As an accompanist, he has collaborated with Zinka Milanov and Licia Albanese.  Currently Mr. Beegle serves on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music in New York City.