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S & H Concert Review

A Morning at the Russian Ballet: Tchaikovsky/Pletnev, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Simon Trpceski (piano), Liwei Qin (cello), Lawrence Power (viola), Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano), Alexander Melnikov (piano), Wigmore Hall, 14th July 2002 (MB)

This noteworthy recital, the first of four concerts dedicated to new Generation Artists Day, showcased some of the most exciting young talent to have emerged in recent years. Simon Trpceski, so often reviewed in these pages, and now on the threshold of a major international career, began proceedings with what is almost becoming his calling card, Pletnev’s arrangement of suites from the Nutcracker.

Allied with an incandescent technique, and a formidable imagination, Trpceski played these excerpts with balletic panache. Keyboard control was as secure as ever with sudden pianissimos evolving from thunderous fortes, and his pedalling opened up clustered chords like a chrysilis. Moments such as the ‘Sugar-Plum Fairy’ had a snappiness and spring to the playing, whilst the closing ‘Pas-de-Deux’ produced genuinely poetic playing. He returned to the platform to partner the Chinese/Australian cellist Liwei Qin in Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne from Pulcinella. Liwei Qin possesses a beautiful, if somewhat small, sound and he made much of the more introspective moments of the suite, but this was a routine performance which did little to rescue the work’s over-worked beauties.

More interesting were four excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet, arranged for viola and piano. Lawrence Power, partnered by Simon Crawford-Phillips, brought a genuine sense of pathos to the ‘Death of Juliet’, a spacious reading which showed off Power’s tonal lustre perfectly. His tone is often massive, and whether intended or not, he often over-powered his accompanist. Unfashionably, and rather like Celibidache used to do in concert performances of these ballet arrangements, Power placed the scherzo that is ‘Mercutio’ after the tranquillity of Juliet’s death. True, it brings the suite to a rip-roaring close, but artistically it is a mess. More problematically, I wonder whether the viola is right for this transcription – much of it would sound better on the ‘cello.

Alexander Melnikov gave a dazzling performance of three scenes from Petrushka. Melnikov is a virtuoso in the truest sense of the word, with a technique that recalls Cziffra, but he also possesses, like Trpceski, an absolute sense of keyboard control. If at times he over-projected he masterminded a performance that had huge dynamic range. This performance spiralled like a tornado, but, with some of the cleanest articulation imaginable, he never let the virtuosity overwhelm the balance of the work. Glissandi were thrillingly done, whilst his pedalling melted the vast bass-line chords with bell-like clarity. The briefest of notes about the performers informed us that Melnikov holds a pilot’s license. Given the tenacious brilliance of this performance I assume it is a license for a jet fighter.

Marc Bridle

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