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Fliter, Tchetuev, Yerzhanov - plus dead piano [May. 29th, 2009|03:56 pm]
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When three young pianists tackle major works by Schumann at the Wigmore Hall on successive days, comparisons are mandatory. First up was the Kazakh pianist Temirzhan Yerzhanov, supported by a big cohort of his compatriots, who gave us eight pieces from Schumann’s "Bunte Blatter" plus his Piano Sonata No 1, followed by Prokofiev’s "Visions Fugitives" and Piano Sonata no 2. But in his hands both composers came across as unrelievedly dark and declamatory; Schumann was completely devoid of his lightness and fancy. The encore was a Chopin nocturne, and even that was ponderous.

I note that Yerzhanov records for a label called Con Brio: perhaps he should sign up with one called Dolce, because at present half his palette is missing. I note also that he traces his keyboard ancestry back via a chain of Russian pianists to Liszt, and that he is a globe-trotting conservatoire teacher: caveat emptor - buyer beware.

When Buenos Aires-born Ingrid Fliter sat down at the piano the next day, it was hard to believe it was the same instrument: launching into Chopin’s Grande Valse Brillante Op 18, she delivered its twists and turns with bewitchingly evanescent charm. Reaching the showy conclusion, however, she suddenly faltered, banged a note, got up and looked into the piano's works, shrugged apologetically, and walked out. But this was a live lunchtime broadcast for radio 3!

Were we still on air? What were the listeners in the shires hearing? There was no sign of Radio 3’s Fiona Talkington, who had enjoined us to provide "atmosphere" over which she would do her links. Instead, on marched the house manager, plus an assistant with a face like an undertaker, who shut the piano's lid. Then they took up the floor, and descended into the depths: three new piano legs appeared, followed by three new pedals, then a sleeping beast was unwrapped and cranked into the daylight. The scene was so surreal that people began to take pictures, until an usher sternly forbade it: a mere fifteen minutes later, business resumed - which must have been some sort of record.

The remainder of her recital consisted of Schumann’s "Etudes Symphoniques", a majestic work requiring a massive feat of imaginative control, but she had obviously been knocked off balance. She had thought deeply about how to negotiate the peaks and chasms of Schumann’s visionary landscape, and gave it wonderful sweep and grandeur, but many of the variations needed more shape. The theme should have stood out more starkly against the swirl which followed, and there were times when the musical line got lost in a welter of lovingly dwelt-on detail. Her unusual envoi was a pair of posthumous variations which came to us like ghostly, beautiful echoes; her defiant encore was Chopin's "Minute Waltz", which in her hands became 90 seconds of show-stopping fun. Come back soon, and justify the promise of your brilliant EMI Chopin disc last year.

Day three brought the 28-year-old Ukrainian Igor Tchetuev, whose dizzy career has taken him to the the world's smartest halls and festivals since he won the Grand prix for his country’s young pianists' competition at 14. And here it was immediately apparent that we could relax. Schumann’s Arabeske in C major came with a silky singing tone, sections of mellifluous murmur alternating with incisive declamatoriness. He moved on without a break into the Abegg variations, which were delivered with limpid resonance. Each was exquisitely shaped, and the virtuosity seemed effortless. He then gave us Chopin’s first 12 Etudes, followed by a stirring Petrushka (once nearly coming to grief, but not quite) in a manner which reminded us that the golden age of Soviet pianism is still alive and well, in the hands of its latter-day products.

This brilliant young player can next be caught at the Cadogan Hall on June 11.
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