The final concert in this series of four that Dmitri Alexeev dedicated to his mentor Dmitri Bashkirov.
Visibly moved the usually reticent Alexeev made a short speech to point out the importance of Bashkirov and the Russian tradition of piano playing via Goldenweiser to Liszt.
Dmitri Aleksandrovich Bashkirov November 1, 1931 – March 7, 2021.Trained in his hometown Tbilisi and Moscow and began an International career as a soloist when he won the Marguerite Long Competition in Paris in 1955. He taught at the Moscow Conservatory from 1957 to 1991, and at the Queen Sofia College in Madrid from 1991 to 2021. He taught also as a guest at other international conservatories and is regarded as Dmitri Alexeev said as a representative of the Russian piano school. He taught many internationally renowned artists such as Dmitri Alexeev,Arcadi Volodos,Nikolai Demidenko,Kiril Gernstein ,Stanislav Ioudenitch ,Denis Kozhukhin,Dang Thai Son and many others .He also taught at the International Piano Academy on Lake Como,the Shanghai Conservatory,the Chapelle musicale Reine Elisabeth in Brussels,the Paris Conservatoire,Salzburg Mozarteum etc.His daughter,also his pupil,is married to Daniel Barenboim.
Memorable for many reasons were his Masterclasses at the Royal College on this very stage.In private he was a revelation but in public he was a tyrant.I well remember a young Serbian pianist preparing with him in private lessons the Rachmaninov Corelli Variations .Invited to play them at his public masterclass he dressed in his best concert outfit to find that the Maestro in front of a shocked public shrieked and shouted at him and he only got as far as the first bar.Another young pianist ,who had just won the coveted Schumann prize with the Sonata op 14 he reduced to tears and most of the public at this point left in a state of shock and disbelief.Genius is never easy to live with,which is easy to appreciate from the list of pianists who passed through his hands and thanks to him have gone on to great careers.
And so now to the Alexeev school of piano playing at the Royal College in London with five of his actual students invited to give a scintillating display of this remarkable tradition of piano playing.
A very young looking Jacky Zhang gave a remarkable account of the Brahms Handel variations.
From the clarity of the theme through a series of episodes of such character but with such burning intensity and drive.From the most delicate sounds to the mighty and powerful and from the veritable music box to the menacing build up with swirling crescendi from the bass to the triumphant exhilaration of Handel’s mighty theme.
There was astonishing clarity in the fugue where the bells of Kiev rang out first in the treble answered by the bass with overwhelming authority while the knotty twine of the fugue was wending its way to the tumultuous final bars.
A very pale looking Russian boy Alexander Doronin proceeded to ravish us with a sumptuous performance of Berg’s one movement sonata.There was magic in the air as the sounds he produced were pure streams of gold with so many layers,one overlapping the other but with a sense of architectural line that was quite remarkable.
The absolute clarity and rhythmic control he brought to Ligeti’s extraordinary ‘l’escalier du diable’showed a remarkable technical control and rhythmic drive -a real Jekyll and Hyde and a name to look out for in the future.
I well remember the legendary Russian virtuoso,Shura Cherkassky arriving one summer at my beach house with a tattered BBC copy of this study.Even in his 80’s he made himself learn a new contemporary work each season.He had previously learnt Copland’s El Salon Mexico and what impish joy he took is attacking the deep bass notes .Morton Gould’s Boogie Woogie Etude he teased his audiences with.So it was in fact the title of the piece that he loved but little had he realised the transcendental difficulties that Ligeti demands in his studies.It is a young man’s piece as Alexander showed us so magnificently today.But Shura eternally youthful performed and recorded it to great effect too.
Nikita Burzanitsa played with just the demonic control that I had heard a year ago from his teacher Dmitri Alexeev in a concert streamed live from Poland.The star ringing out at the beginning in a mist of mysterious sounds that grew in intensity until the final ecstatic explosion. A very fine performance just missing the absolute frenzy of his mentor who had literally brought the final few bars to an unrelenting fever pitch that was so hypnotically exhausting as it was memorable. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/dmitri-alexeev-in-poland-a-master-speaks-the-supreme-stylist/
Thomas Kelly is now making a mark for himself and his great artistry is being revealed.I heard him in this hall four years ago when he gave an extraordinary account of Schumann’s Carnaval and much to everyone’s surprise, except mine,he swept the board and was awarded the much coveted Joan Chissell Schumann prize.
It is she that had turned the phrase ‘Mr Rubinstein turned baubles into gems’ referring to Villa Lobos ‘O prol do bebe’ suite.
The same could be said of the works by Medtner that Thomas played today.I know I risk a black eye but have always thought of Medtner to be Rachmaninov without the tunes !
Today with the great artistry of Thomas he convinced me that I was wrong.
The absolute charm of the melodic line in ‘Canzona Matinata’ had all the aristocratic colour and sound of the Poulenc Intermezzo in A flat in the hands of Rubinstein – that sense of elegance without sentimentality.But what wondrous colours Thomas could conjure from the piano and this was just a prelude to the eruption of the Sonata Tragica.
Sounding like the opening of Rachmaninov’s much overplayed second sonata there followed a continuous outpouring of sumptuous sounds.But sounds with a meaning and overall sense of direction and a subtle sense of balance that never once lost the illusive thread.A quite extraordinary performance from an artist who is fast getting the recognition that he deserves.A finalist in the Leeds piano competition,he has shown the world what talent there is on the horizon.
JunLin Wu I had heard three years ago he was astonishing then but now matured into a quite amazing artist.
A sense of style and colour that brought Albeniz’s ‘baubles’ to life as only Alicia de Larrocha could have done.A driving insistence in the Prelude interspersed with a melodic line doubled at the octave that was so atmospheric with such quixotic changes of character.A sense of rubato or flexibility as a Spanish singer would do instinctively,born into the Spanish tradition.A wonderfully mellifluous Córdoba was answered by the infectious rhythmic outpouring of Triana.
But this was just the prelude to a transcendental performance of Ravel’s La Valse.
How was that possible from this youthful young musician.
Only a true magician knows the secrets of how to turn this black box of strings and hammers into an instrument of blazing emotions and searing excitement.
Glissandi shot out of his fingers like rockets as the Valse did it’s demonic deed and we were all caught up in this diabolical display of transcendental piano playing.’X’ certificate stuff indeed!
The Russian school of piano playing as shown by Alexeev not only from his teaching but also as he showed us last week in his magnificent totally committed performances.
It is a misunderstood school that for once has been clarified today not as a school of extremes but a school where the absolute fidelity to the composers intentions are exulted by a total command of the keyboard.
First and foremost with orchestral colours added to a transcendental technique where any difficulties are those of interpretation,any others just do not exist.
This is what was on display today in these young musicians hands and there could be no greater tribute to the genius of Bashkirov thanks to Dmitri Alexeev