Quiet Intimacy and Unflagging Power in Demidenko Recital

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Glinka, Kallinov, Blumenfeld, Chopin, Liszt: Nikolai Demidenko, piano, Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff, 1.2.2015. (NR)

Glinka, Nocturne in F minor
Kallinikov, Nocturne in F sharp major
Blumenfeld, Notturno-Fantasia in E major, op. 20
Chopin, Nocturnes in C minor, op. 48 no. 1, F sharp minor, op. 48 no. 2, in E flat major, op. 55 no.2, in C sharp minor, op. post.
Liszt, Ballade no. 1 in D flat
Sonata in B minor


Nikolai Demidenko’s recital in the fine new concert hall of the Royal Welsh College was both powerful and absorbing. Having been accidentally sent the wrong schedule and as a result starting twenty minutes late didn’t seem to bother him; he immediately won the restive audience over by recalling a time when he arrived at a premiere symphony hall just in time for his performance of Rachmaninov 2, only for the orchestra to launch into Rachmaninov 3.

 His first half in Cardiff did however proceed according to programme, featuring a series of nocturnes: four by Chopin, preceded by three little-known Russian pieces. The Glinka was a pleasant hors d’oeuvre really, the Kallinikov full of plaintive melodies similar to those found in his symphonies, and the much weightier piece, new to me, by Felix Blumenfeld, Neuhaus’s uncle and Yudina’s teacher, had an attractive limpid flow reminiscent in a way as much of Fauré as of the more obvious Tchaikovsky. All were performed with a lovely unhurried spaciousness; seated on an ordinary chair rather than a concert stool, Demidenko played as one might imagine him playing in his living room.

 As with a number of top Russian pianists, he somehow gives the impression that his fingers are not so much hitting the keys as working them sculpturally, patiently easing the music from its hiding places. Chopin’s great C minor Nocturne, op. 48 no. 1, came across with all its granite bleakness, and Demidenko was fully alert to the individual characters of the others, especially Op. 55 no.2 with its Bach-like inner dialogues.

 The second half, as forceful as the first had been intimate, was all Liszt – the first Ballade, which does always seem to me a bit of a makeweight, followed by the B minor Sonata, which is anything but. It’s such a difficult and exhausting piece to bring off, but this was a performance of high calibre. There was all the power and unflagging drive you would expect, and some fine lyrical moments too, including the sublime, all-too-brief passage at the halfway point, the sudden radiant split in the clouds as the music bursts into the major before darkening again. For myself, though, I think it’s the memory of the quietly contemplative playing earlier in the afternoon that will last the longer.

 Neil Reeve

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