All Russian Programmme by Piano Laureate of Hones International Piano Competition

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Medtner, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgski:  Georgy Tchaidze (piano) Wigmore Hall, London 19.3.2012 (RB)

Medtner: Four Fairy Tales (‘Skazki’) Op 34
Prokofiev: Sonata No. 4 in C minor Op 29
Tchaikovsky: Three pieces from The Seasons Op 37b
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

Georgy Tchaidze is a laureate of the Honens International Piano Competition which, according to the programme notes, awards its laureates the competition world’s largest cash price (young aspiring pianists take note) and a comprehensive career development programme. This all-Russian programme was intriguing in that the pieces in the first half dated from 1917 (the year of the Russian revolution) and the pieces in the second half from 1874-75.

Tchaidze is to be commended for beginning his recital with four of Medtner’s wonderful Fairy Tales. Why these pieces are not better known and played more often remains a mystery to me. The first piece in the set entitled ‘The Magic Violin’ was inspired by a poem by Gumilev and is about music’s irresistibly seductive and destructive power. Tchaidze brought out the melancholy lilt of the theme and was highly responsive to the numerous changes in tempo, rhythm and musical texture. The second piece is entitled ‘What we Once Called Ours is Gone Forever’ and Tchaidze allowed the hauntingly lyrical melody to sing over the swirling piano textures, which were well controlled. The third piece in the set is about a wood spirit and is a spiky, slightly elusive work. Tchaidze characterised the piece well although I wasn’t always convinced about the emphasis he placed on some of the musical material or the overall shape of the work. The fourth piece is entitled ‘The Poor Knight’ and it sounds like a Russian version of one of Busoni’s Bach transcriptions. Tchadize’s tone was excellent and he created a wonderful feeling of space from his Steinway and articulated the long phrases beautifully.

The first half concluded with Prokofiev’s Fourth Sonata, which is played less frequently than some of the composer’s other piano sonatas (although it was a great favourite of Richter). In the opening allegro molto sostenuto Tchaidze deployed a warm tone to evoke the melancholic Russian lyricism of the main theme and the range of sonorities and textures in the central section and percussive ending were perfectly judged. The andante assai had some good contrasts between the dark colours of the opening and the weightless and ethereal interludes although I was not completely convinced that Tchaidze had a compelling narrative for this movement. The allegro con brio, ma non leggiere finale was brilliantly played and had verve and drive throughout. Tchaidze captured superbly the wit, charm and spikiness of the piece.

The second half opened with the last three pieces from The Seasons which Tchaidze argues in the programme notes are a micro-cycle in themselves. October’s ‘Autumn Song’ was tender and expressive and had some nicely judged textural layering. Tchaidze conjured bright colours from his Steinway for November’s ‘On the Troika’ and captured the sense of festive warmth. December’s ‘Yuletide’ was charming and elegant with Tchaidze playfully bringing out the sway and lilt of the waltz.

The recital concluded with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, which must be the most-performed solo piano work in the whole of Russian piano literature. There were some very good elements in Tchaidze’s performance although I thought his interpretation was a little generalised. Pianists can afford to give free rein to their imagination and to be innovative in this particular work if they want to deliver a really great performance. There was a nice range of tone colours for the various iterations of the promenade theme and I particularly liked the warm lyricism of ‘The Old Castle’ and the playful elegance of ‘Tuileries’. The ‘Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks’ was played with impish delight and I liked the dark colours of the ‘Catacombs’. ‘The Gnome’ was a little too slick and did not have the sinister elements or sense of clumsiness that it needs. ‘Bydlo’ was a little fast and while Tchaidze had weight of tone he did not really convey the awkwardness and heaviness of the cart. The portrait of ‘Schmuyle’ lacked pathos while ‘Baba Yaga’ had weight and power but lacked savagery and pace. ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’ had an epic splendour with Tchaidze bringing the recital to a triumphant conclusion.

The audience responded warmly to this young pianist and were rewarded with two short and elegantly played encores by Liadov and Scriabin.

Robert Beattie