Alexander Melnikov’s Thought-Provoking Approach to Debussy

06/04/2017

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, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Northampton’s 13th Malcolm Arnold Festival – 13 to 14 October 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! This October Carlos Acosta Returns to London to Celebrate Thirty Years in Dance __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! LMTO Bring Camelot Back to the West End for the First Time in 30 Years on 6 October __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! The Roman River Music Festival Returns This September __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! MARKUS POSCHNER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month