United Kingdom Beethoven, Ravel, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev Vitaly Pisarenko (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 16.4.2015 (RB)
Beethoven – Sonata No. 8 in C Minor Op 13 Pathetique
Ravel – Miroirs
Rachmaninov – Morceaux de fantasie Op 3 No. 1 & 3
Prokofiev – Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major Op 82
This recital by Vitaly Pisarenko, a former winner of the Franz Liszt International Piano Competition, was one of a series of concerts for prizewinners of the Keyboard Charitable Trust. The Trust was set up to provide performing opportunities and international platforms to outstanding young musicians.
Pisarenko opened with one of the great staples of the repertoire, Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. The opening Grave had weight and depth of sound and the playing was very clean and muscular. Pisarenko really captured the brio element of the ensuing Allegro, playing with enormous propulsion and energy and dealing adeptly with the hand crossing. I was pleased to see that the silences in the music were properly observed which all added to the drama. Pisarenko clearly has an amazing technique and he conjured up an orchestral range of sonorities in the opening movement although occasionally the playing was too loud for the hall and the tone was a little hard. There were some nicely shaped lines and sensitive lyricism in the famous slow movement although I wondered if Pisarenko might do even more to mine the expressive possibilities of this piece. The opening of the finale was poised and elegantly shaped and had a limpid beauty of tone that was admirable. The playing was very tight and clean throughout and I particularly enjoyed the way Pisarenko whipped up the arpeggio figurations in the middle section. This was a great opening to the concert but Pisarenko remained seated at the keyboard and had to be coaxed by the Wigmore audience to come and take a bow – he comes across as a very shy and diffident young man so it would be useful for him to think about how to engage with his audience more.
From Beethoven we moved to the subtle and evocative impressionistic tone painting of Ravel’s Miroirs which was composed in 1904-05. Each of the five movements in the suite are dedicated to members of the group of devotees of the arts known as Les Apaches – Ravel and Stravinsky were both members of the group, as was the pianist Ricardo Viñes who gave the first performance of the suite in 1906. Pisarenko’s performance of this highly virtuosic music was superb. Noctuelles was played with a shimmering delicacy with Pisarenko giving us transparent textures and a glistening array of colours while at the same time impressively sustaining the line. The opening bird calls of Oiseaux tristes were gorgeous and I loved the sultry, sensual warmth of the playing. The undulating contours of Une Barque sur L’Océan were brilliantly realised and there was some vivid tone painting in the middle section as the music became more turbulent. The acrobatics of the jester were brought winningly to life in Alboarado del gracioso while the difficult rapid repeated notes and double note glissandi were dazzling. The carefree Iberian abandon in the piece shone through and I loved the quicksilver changes of mood in the final section and thrilling climax to the piece. Pisarenko presented us with gossamer rustling sounds in the opening section of Les Vallée des cloches while the middle section had a nuanced expressive charm. There was some lovely pastel colouring in the final section and delicate sensations and sensibilities were evoked as we heard the chiming of the bells gradually fading away.
Pisarenko opened the second half with two of Rachmaninov’s Op 3 Morceaux de fantasie. The Elégie is the first piece in the set and it is pervaded with an air of Russian melancholy that somehow typifies this composer. Pisarenko played it in a richly expressive way with a sense of soulful Romantic longing. He also captured the grand Romantic sweep of the Mélodie (the third piece in the set) and ended on a note of wistful nostalgia.
Pisarenko moved seamlessly from the warm glow of early Rachmaninov to the bleakness and harshness of Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata, the first of the ‘War Sonatas’. The first movement was a brilliant piece of playing: the opening chords had an acerbic bite before we moved to the menacing dark shadows and barbarism of the subsequent sections. The central section was particularly impressive with Pisarenko playing Prokofiev’s motoric figurations with steely fingered resolve. There was a slight dip in concentration and at the start of the second movement and a few more wrong notes than Prokofiev intended. Pisarenko recovered well, however, and did an excellent job conveying the scabrous wit and sense of parody that runs through the movement. The waltzing third movement had a whiff of Scriabinesque decadence about it but Pisarenko also let us hear the unrelenting harshness in the music. His tempo for the finale was very fast indeed and when he started to play it I was not convinced it would work. He controlled it extremely well and as the playing progressed I became more and more convinced by this interpretation. The music seemed to teeter on the edge of sanity and to be suffused with pitch black satire and a sense of the grotesque, almost like a musical analogue to Bulgakov’s writing. It was a spectacular piece of playing and a great way to end the recital.
Encores were inevitable after a recital of this quality and Pisarenko treated the Wigmore audience to Siloti’s transcription of Bach’s Prelude in B Minor and Rachmaninov’s Polichinelle (the fourth of the pieces from his Op 3).