Alexander Ardakov: a Major Disappointment

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Rachmaninov: Alexander Ardakov (piano). Purcell Room, London, 26.3.2013 (CC)

Glinka: Separation
Two Mazurkas
Melodious Waltz
Tchaikovsky:The Seasons, Op. 37: “Autumn Song”;
Nasha Waltz, Op. 51/4
Chopin: Four Impromptus
Nocturnes: Op. 9 Nos. 1 and 3
Scherzo No. 2
Rachmaninov: Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3: No. 3, “Melodie” in E;
No. 1 “Elegie” in E flat minor;
No. 4, “Polichinelle” in F sharp.
Preludes (selection)

Alexander Ardakov is Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban; he is a graduate of Moscow Conservatoire and a prizewinner at the Viotti International Competition. He clearly has a following, as the Purcell Room was fairly full. It was not he, however, that attracted me to this concert; rather it was the opportunity to hear solo piano music by Glinka and Tchaikovsky, both of which rarely get an outing on the concert stage.

Glinka’s piano music is shot through with that particularly Russian strain of melancholy. The four pieces we heard are representative of his small output. Ardakov sits low, and his sound in the more intimate pieces is most appealing and warm. As it turned out, the Glinka and the Tchaikovsky were the programme highlights. The implied pain of “Separation” was there; the two Mazurkas were delicious, the second containing some lovely leggiero. The Tarantella is not one of the breathless variety, and Ardakov honoured its reflective streak.

That melancholy that spoke in the Glinka rose again, augmented, for Tchaikovsky’s “Autumn Song” (October from The Seasons). The melody here contains so much that could only be by Tchaikovsky. Ardakov projected the interplay of voices well; the “Barcarolle” is June from the same set, here heard with eloquent simplicity. The “Nasha Waltz” is from Six Pieces, Op. 51, and was delivered with some Schwung.

So far Ardakov’s playing had been eminently charming, good-humoured and appealing: all qualities perfect for his chosen works. Entering the main body of the piano repertoire, however, things took a turn for the worse. Perhaps because this is such well-trodden territory, it became obvious that this was good but certainly not great playing. On the positive side, Chopin’s filigree always had substance. There was no doubting Ardakov’s finger strength in the first of the Impromptus, in A flat. All four Impromptus were well shaped, but it was difficult to escape the impression that Ardakov was not fully inside the music. Certainly his fingers had no problem with the Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66, but there was no real feeling of communion with the score. He is clearly better at the more reflective pieces, as the two Nocturnes proved.

The Second Scherzo ended the hour-long first half in a fairly routine run-through. Silences, so vital to this piece, held little or no pregnancy. Generally muted and splashy when it finally got going, this was a performance that only revealed a shadow of Chopin’s great Scherzo.

Almost certainly, if I had not been reviewing, I would have left at that point. Still, it is always good to hear pieces from Rachmaninov’s Op. 3. Strangely, Ardakov, after projecting lines well in the first half, narrowly missed over-projecting those of the “Melodie”; the “Elegie” was shorn of intimacy, although it was well pedalled; there was, however, playfulness to the “Polichinelle”, a wide-ranging piece.

There followed a selection of ten Preludes, beginning with the famous C sharp minor Op. 3/2, meaning we actually got to hear four of the five pieces that make up Op. 3. The C sharp minor Prelude was strangely uncoordinated, almost as if Arkadov had not thought its structure through, and so lost all sense of grandeur. The remaining Preludes were a hotchpotch of good and (mainly) bad: over-projected treble (Op. 23/1), hardening of tone as the dynamic increased (Op. 23/3) though offset by good bass definition; an Op. 23/4 in which the line was simply butchered, balanced by the appealing trills of the pastorale-like trills of Op. 32/5. The G sharp minor Prelude, despite an exciting middle section, was hardly evocative, while the magical repetitions of the B minor (Op. 32/10) were simply monotonous. The B flat major, Op. 23/2, ostensibly the perfect, rousing way to close, made a voyage from tepid beginning to a bang-fest.

A major disappointment.

Colin Clarke