Alexander Melnikov’s Thought-Provoking Approach to Debussy


Debussy: Alexander Melnikov (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 5.4.2017. (AS)

Debussy Préludes, Books 1 and 2

Alexander Melnikov is well-known for his solo performances of Austro-German and Russian repertoire, also for his work with original instrument ensembles involving the use of historical instruments, and for his partnership with the violinist Isobel Faust. But in the music of Debussy he will have been an unknown quantity to many in the audience at the Wigmore Hall. We hear the composer’s piano music in performance quite frequently, but a whole evening devoted to the two books of Préludes is a rarity indeed: a BBC producer muttered to me before the performance that he didn’t know whether it was a really a good idea, implying no doubt that a whole evening of such singular music might be misguided.

The experience turned out to be miles away from the traditional Debussy style of performance that we usually hear. Melnikov’s approach to the music was obviously deeply considered. Every piece had been minutely examined, no doubt with great respect, for there was nothing that seemed deliberately willful, for mere effect: there was no question of the pianist showing off to the audience and saying, “Look how different and special I am”.

What did emerge was the pianist’s intention of pointing contrasts in the music. Slow tempi were indeed slow, with frequent hesitations or inserted commas. But then the wind in Le vent dans le plaine turned into a violent storm, the final Feu d’artifice became a virtuosic whirl with a big bang finish. Contrasts in dynamics were extreme, from the merest whisper that will yet have penetrated the farthest reaches of the hall, to mighty explosions that the acoustic could barely tolerate. Melnikov’s technical command was extraordinary, but severely disciplined by his concept of the music. Sometimes one wished that the examination had not been so searching. How good it would have been to hear the simple, direct charm of La fille aux cheveux de lin expressed naturally. But no, Melnikov had his own “take” on the music, and extra expression was laid on, not thoughtlessly, but clearly with his own sense of complete conviction.

Over-interpretation can usually be irritating, and this was sometimes the case here, but often the departures were thought-provoking and occasionally quite affecting. These were readings that one would probably not wish to hear again: if they were preserved on record they would certainly irritate on repetition. But heard once on the wing of live performance they were at the very least interesting.

Alan Sanders

Print Friendly


Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews


Season Previews

  • NEW! The Piccadilly Chamber Music Series in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera and More in Buenos Aires in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Spend a Penny for Grange Park Opera’s Lavatorium Rotundum __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 Lucerne Summer Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Forthcoming Schubert Song Series in Leeds and Sheffield __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! I Musicanti’s Alexandra and the Russians at St Johns Smith Square in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • UPDATED! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House Announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

  • UPDATED! SOME OF OUR REVIEWERS CHOOSE THEIR ‘BEST OF 2017’ __________________________________
  • NEW! Dénes Várjon Talks to Sebastian Smallshaw About Budapest’s __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM – DMITRI HVOROSTOVSKY (1962-2017) __________________________________
  • NEW! Ann Murray’s Masterclass at the V&A Part of Opera: Passion, Power and Politics __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli is ‘Singing My Dreams’ at the Cadogan Hall in February 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! A Composer Speaks Up for the Environment: An Interview with Margaret Brouwer __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Russian Ballet Icons Gala at the London Coliseum on 25 February __________________________________
  • NEW! Twelve Years of Celebrating Malcolm Arnold in Northampton __________________________________
  • NEW! What is the Critic’s Job? A Review of A. O. Scott’s Recent Book __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H