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S & H Recital Review

Bach, Schubert, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Igor Tchetuev (piano), Wigmore Hall, 20th October 2003 (MB)


Igor Tchetuev, a recent prize-winner at the Leeds International Piano Competition, has one notable asset: an incandescent technique. Throughout this taxing recital, spanning music over a 200-year period, he displayed impeccable control over the keyboard, even in the blistering precision he gave to Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata. Wrong notes were simply few and far between. But technique is not everything, and despite being impressed by this 23 year olds prodigious talent, it is probably true to say that his talent is one that is neither natural nor one that will evolve with the ease of some of his contemporaries. Interpretatively, this recital left a lot to be desired.

Problems surfaced prematurely in his performance of Bach’s F major ‘Concerto in the Italian Style’. Too often one was aware of the left hand constantly obscuring the detail of the right hand, especially in the Allegro. Finger-work may well have been crystalline and sharp but it was also overly literal. The Andante produced detached playing – an anodyne tone allied with an ordinariness of expression. It all sounded too bleak without any real understanding of Bach’s contrapuntal writing emerging. In part, the blandness of the playing was exacerbated by a restricted dynamic range and this really became problematical in the Presto. Infectiously vital it often seemed, but it was also dynamically too loud, much nearer to Beethoven than Bach.

Schubert’s great D958 Sonata followed a similar trajectory. All the notes were in the right place, but what was lacking was a sense of colour and poetry. The defiance of the first movement was mistaken by Mr Tchetuev for aggression, and this paralysed the movement’s dark dramatic undertones and the subtle mood changes that Schubert deploys throughout its development. Again, the power of the left hand seemed to obscure the delicacy of the right, though those thunderous chords that mark the end of the song-like intimacy half way through the movement were powerful enough to impress. The Adagio itself was a litmus test for this pianist and he scaled its heights rather well – the first example of both intimate playing and mature understanding of tonal colouring. A heaviness to the left hand threatened to dissipate the attempts at beauty, but Mr Tchetuev had sufficient reserves of subtlety to carry the movement off. Much less traumatic than the first movement was a gracious Minuet and a final peroration in the Allegro that combined turbulence with terseness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Scriabin and Prokofiev found Mr Tchetuev on humbler ground. The three Etudes (C sharp minor, Op.2 No.1, F sharp minor, Op.8, No.2, and G sharp minor, Op.8, No.9) were each delivered with an elegance of phrasing and a vibrancy of tone. But it was Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata in A major which really showed what this young pianist can do delivering a performance high on drama, though perhaps not on electricity. Percussive power was not a problem – and here it was at least appropriate – and cluster chords (including the use of the fists) were thrilling in their scale. Yet, powerhouse playing was not the only effect of the performance. There was a real attempt to project aural clarity, nothing sounding overly congested as it can do in some performances of this firebrand sonata, and when the storm clouds had disappeared from the skies there was room left for a delicacy of touch (as in the mercurial waltz). This was by no means a complete performance (just occasionally it didn’t sound frantic or terrifying enough) but it was the highlight of a recital that didn’t quite live up to expectations.

Marc Bridle



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