The Chopin Society salutes a Master
It was very moving to see the spontaneous standing ovation given to Dmitri Alexeev at the end of his recital for the Chopin Society in the Westminster Hall in London.
In their series of past top prize winners of the Leeds International Piano Competition it was the turn of Dmitri Alexeev who had won first prize in 1975.
Mitsuko Uchida and Andras Schiff were second and third.
He has gone on to a worldwide career.
He played for us in Teatro Ghione in Rome some memorable recitals in 1996 and 2003 always represented by Donatella Brizio his adorable old style agent in Milan who is much missed
He was a favourite soloist for the artistic director of the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Rome,Lanza Tomassi.
It would be hard to ever forget his memorable performance of Rachmaninov 3rd Piano Concerto with them.
Listening some time ago to a radio interview he explained that he had decided after years of travelling the world playing with the greatest orchestras and conductors that he would dedicate himself to travelling and playing less in order to help talented young musicians- the next generation.
Infact he is one of the most sought after and renowned teachers at the Royal College of Music in London .
It was at this rare appearance in London where many of the finest young pianists came to applaud and thank their dedicated mentor.
It was a display of piano playing that London is all too rarely used to hearing.
It had a sense of weight and commitment that allowed the piano to sing in a way that we are not used to hearing these days.
A cantabile sound of such richness that it would have carried with the same intensity to the back of the largest halls as it would appear to the nearest .
With actors it would be the use of the diaphram to allow the voice to be modulated and projected.
A tender “I love you” would be appreciated by the public in the front row as it would in the last.These days actors rely on artificial means of amplification and only the greatest of stage actors seem to know what a diaphram is and its importance.
Richter described with great admiration the magical sound of Rubinstein as “the good old professional cantabile.”The Russian school was more preoccupied with the sounds from pianissimo to mezzo piano.
Richter and Gilels were the magicians that could conjure up both.
Richter was of course unique in his own magic world of pure genius.
Gilels was much less “Russian” in his approach to sound and it was Rubinstein who on hearing a young red headed boy play in the class of a teacher in Russia had exclaimed that if he ever came to the west he would pack up his bags immediately!
And it was of Gilels that I was reminded today.
The total commitment combined to a sound world in which anything was possible.
Like a beautiful cocoon that has he created in which the musical intelligence of Alexeev could operate with a freedom and sense of direction without ever the possibility of seeming indulgent or in bad taste.
There was never a doubt of his musical intentions in a long programme of Scriabin and Chopin.
I believe he has embarked on recording all the works of Scriabin which include many of the smaller works rarely performed in the west.
It was a revelation to hear the little waltz op 38 with its charming “tinkerbell” type call to order .
Together with the Mazukas played with the same charm and colour that he later reserved for the much better known ones of Chopin.
What was truly a revelation was the Vers la Flamme op 72 following on from superb performances of the two better known poems op.69 .
Vers la Flamme I had heard recently from a very fine french pianist at the Wigmore Hall A very clean and clear performance in which the two note motif was hammered out incessantly.
In Alexeevs hands we heard the gurgling of murky waters in which the motif was revealed.As the water got hotter and hotter so the motif became more urgent until a boiling point of such overwhelming intensity was reached and there was a gasp from an audience totally mesmerised and involved as Alexeev was.
Throwing himself at the desperate trills in the end it was a harrowing and unforgettable experience for us all.
The Fantasie too received a very involved performance.
A work which is played a lot these days as it is has become a showpiece for advanced students and is the more accessible early Scriabin.
Here was a lesson of how to blend together all the many strands of knotty twine that Scriabin weaves but at the same time to follow the direction of each with an almost Wagnerian subtlety.
A very powerful reading of great passion when needed but also of such sumptuous sounds.
Interesting to see that Alexeev has no worries about dividing the hands at the beginning of the Polonaise- Fantasie by Chopin .More preoccupied about the actual sounds than the way they are produced.
It was an opening of pure magic where the opening fanfares seemed to reverberate throught the piano as I am sure Chopin intended.
The return of the fanfare too in which time seemed to stand still such was his aristocratic understanding throughout of Chopins world.
The wonderful sculptured cantabile of the yearning almost mazuka type nostagic motif and the build up to the end was extraordinary.
Without any hardness but through a subtle use of the pedal and sense of balance he brought the final few bars to a truly triumphal ending.
The Rondo op 1 rarely heard since the passing of Magaloff.
It is a charming early work and was played with just the charm and style of the great pianists of the past.
No jeux perle though but cascades of notes and a subtle use of the pedals that made the return of the rondo theme seem like an old friend returning with a simplicty and clarity that contrased with the showpiece that Chopin had obviously written for his early appearances in the salons of Paris and Warsaw.
The four Mazukas were treated as a whole with the op 30 n.3 leading into the op 63.n.2.
A wonderful sense of rubato never sentimental but with great inner profound meaning
.The Polonaise op 53 brought the house down as it always did for Rubinstein.
The famous octaves were dispatched like the triumphant troups they are supposed to represent.
The melodic line always foremost in mind with a very subtle sense of balance that never allowed us to be outside the cocoon that he had created.
There was an aura created around the piano from the first note to the last where the magician Alexeev could cast his spell on us as he wished.
A spell that had the usual rather well behaved Chopin Society screaming for more.
The Noctune in C sharp minor op posth was the first of four encores and exemplified all that had so enraptured us.
Never since Rubinstein or Gilels have I heard the piano sing with such beauty and nobility.
Aristocratic one might say but never detached but totally committed from the first to the last note.
Following with another Mazurka by Scriabin and the E minor Waltz of Chopin .
The final D sharp Study by Scriabin had the usually rather well behaved audience on their feet to thank the Master that had given them so much this afternoon .