Nikolai Tokarev Plays Works by Fellow Russians Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky

GermanyGermany Dresden Music Festival) 2019 [3] – Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky: Nikolai Tokarev (piano), Lichthof, Albertinum, Dresden, Germany, 2.6.2019. (MC)

Tchaikovsky – ‘The Seasons’ for solo piano, Op.37a

Mussorgsky – ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ for solo piano

The Lichthof at the Albertinum is a large converted space previously an inner courtyard which is often used as a concert hall and has been uncomfortably hot at several Festival concerts, I have previously attended. Actually the Dresdner Philharmonie was resident there whilst its Kulturpalast home was under refurbishment. Thankfully after another day of baking  summer heat in Dresden this evening’s piano recital was not as hot as I had been expecting and no doubt the large audience were grateful to be able to listen to this recital in relative comfort.   

Moscow born pianist Nikolai Tokarev playing a pair of works by fellow Russians Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky was the main reason for my interest in this recital especially Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition in its original piano version. For the first half Tokarev had chosen Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons, twelve short characteristic scenes for solo piano. Written around the mid-1870s, which is the time of his ballet Swan Lake, these pieces were published in monthly instalments in the Nuvellist a Saint Petersburg journal. I don’t see these pieces as a set of tone poems in the manner of Pictures at an Exhibition but as a collection of miniatures, variable in inspiration but all pleasant and undemanding on the ear. Its titles were assigned to each work after initial publication. Tokarev plays beautifully, admirably attuned to the mood, texture and tempi of each piece. Standing out were the popular June Barcarole with Tchaikovsky ignoring the usual meter of the lyrical piece infused with melancholy and employing 4/4 time and also the uplifting November – Troika.

After the interval came the main work of the evening Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and I was delighted to hear the original solo piano version, a masterwork which I have not heard performed live for well over a decade. In 1874 Mussorgsky wrote his Pictures at an Exhibition inspired by a posthumous exhibition in Saint Petersburg of paintings and drawings by his friend Viktor Hartmann who had died suddenly the previous year. After Mussorgsky’s death the suite of ten descriptive panels plus a recurring if varied Promenade, proved exceptionally popular. There are a considerable number of orchestral transcriptions of which Maurice Ravel’s is by far the best known but it is the original piano suite with which Nikolai Tokarev captivated the audience. The Russian pianist put his heart and soul into this recital, without resorting to showmanship, he just modestly got on with the job. With this dazzling showpiece Tokarev demonstrated his prowess producing stunning musical colouring from the score’s myriad moods and glorious sonorities. A favourite panel Bydlo (Ox-cart) portraying a peasant wagon drawn by oxen passing into the distance was persuasively interpreted, creating that important sense of exhaustion and world-weariness. Memorable too was the Ballet of Chicks in their Shells which was uplifting and playful. To conclude, in The Great Gate of Kiev Tokarev treated the audience to a magnificent depiction of the imposing edifice.

Clearly buoyed by the sight of the large audience Nikolai Tokarev put on a sparkling show of Russian piano music leaving the audience clamouring for more.

Michael Cookson

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