Matsuev thunders in Russian program at Ravinia

Tue Jul 29, 2014 at 12:27 pm

By Tim Sawyier

Denis Matsuev performed a program of Russian piano music Monday night at Ravinia.

Denis Matsuev performed a program of Russian piano music Monday night at Ravinia.

Denis Matsuev performed an all-Russian program Monday evening at Ravinia. While his playing was technically exhilarating, the Russian pianist’s taste and voicings were often dubious.

Matsuev opened the program with a complete performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, a twelve-movement suite of miniatures, each of which is meant to depict characteristic elements of each month. He played the extended work in a blandly uniform manner, unexpected from a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, with a lack of dynamic contrast and not enough expressive variety to sustain the 40-minute architecture.

The second half opened with Rachmaninoff—selections from the Etudes Tableaux and the celebrated preludes in G minor and G sharp minor (reversed from the order in the program). Oddly, the Rachmaninoff sounded like Tchaikovsky, and the Tchaikovsky like Rachmaninoff— as though Matsuev was just waiting for the next deafening set of octaves in contrary motion while neglecting softer moments. Ceaseless banging over such an extended period in the intimate Martin Theatre does not make for a pleasant evening.

The unsubtle playing continued in the three dances from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka with which Matsuev chose to let his audience think his program would end. The expressive element in Stravinsky comes, in part, from his precise notation and rhythmic alacrity. Matsuev performed these dances as though they were a contiguous rhapsody, with heavy rubato, losing their incisive quality and an essential “dance” element.

After the prevailing loud volume Matsuev offered four encores and here one finally heard some genuinely hushed, introspective playing. He sounded most at home in a Scriabin etude that provided a more thoughtful brand of bravura than the scheduled program, with clearer voicings. Matsuev ended the evening with pyrotechnical jazz that sent the audience home with mixed feelings and a sense of cognitive dissonance.

Posted in Performances


2 Responses to “Matsuev thunders in Russian program at Ravinia”

  1. Posted Jul 30, 2014 at 9:55 am by Edgar Self

    Was the jazzy encore maybe by Nikolai Kapustin? The first was Liadov’s “Music Box”, the same one Matsuev played downtown after Rachmaninoff’s third concerto with Gergiev and the Mariinsky. I didn’t know the second encore that sounded like more Liadov or Arensky. I enjoyed the recital more than Tim and heard some fine soft playing and voicing. There was some pounding in the Rachmaninoff and especially Stravinsky. Several of Tchaikovsky’s miniatures reminded me of Schumann.

  2. Posted Jul 30, 2014 at 9:57 am by Edgar Self

    I also want to thank Tim for his thoughtful review, especially as I haven’t seen any review yet in the “Trib”.

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