Mikhail Pletnev’s programme of two works more
usually encountered in orchestral garb seemed to present yet more questions
about this musician. Mussorgsky’s mighty Pictures at an Exhibition
made up the first part of the concert and provided just what I have
come to expect from Pletnev: quirks and contradictions set side by side
with moments of real insight, the one playing off the other.
The opening ‘Promenade’ promised much, the deliberately
harsh tone of the initial statement contrasting well with the richer
passages. ‘Gnomus’ was witty; ‘Il vecchio Castello’ atmospheric. ‘Tuilleries’
however brought the onset of a heavy, mannered style of playing that
was to recur throughout, culminating in a laboured and unsubtle ‘Baba
Yaga’s hut on fowl’s legs’, itself giving way to a perfunctory ‘Great
It was almost as if Pletnev was unwilling to let Mussorgsky
speak without first distorting the music with his own voice. Far from
being at the service of the composer, Pletnev seems to purposefully
wrench the text in to his way of doing things, irrespective of whether
the music wants to bend that way or not.
Perhaps this instinct to mark everything with his own
stamp led to the inspiration for his own transcription of music from
Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. With his own hand in the creative
mix, though, Pletnev was, of course, more at home. This was very much
like listening to an extended, Liszt-derived paraphrase: gestures were
firmly rooted in the Romantic virtuosic tradition. The explicitly, unashamedly
virtuoso opening led to a selection of delightful movements from Tchaikovsky’s
masterful ballet, including an eminently civilised Gavotte and a festive
finale. On every level, this was more satisfying than the Pictures
of the first half.
Of the encores, Chopin’s D flat Nocturne, Op. 27 No.
2, replete with over-projected treble and more of that studied rubato
stood in contrast to a delightful Liadov Waltz.