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Bach/Liszt, Bach, Liszt, Schubert: Nikolai Demidenko (piano). QEH, Monday 09.10. 2006 (CC)


Nikolai Demidenko is traditionally thought of as a ‘big’ pianist. His repertoire is fearless (a Prokofiev Second Concerto in 2002 with Svetlanov lingers in the memory) and he plays with a confidence that leaves no doubt as to his capabilities. He uses a Fazioli piano (other pianists who favour this beast are Angela Hewitt, Piers Lane and Stephen Hough). On the surface, a Fazioli’s characteristics might seem to suit a player like Demidenko – the makers claim that there is ‘no distortion at fff’. Demidenko is no stranger to fortissimo (as he proved on this occasion) but the result was on the uncomfortable side. The diamond-bright timbre meant that fortes could be harsh.


The programme itself was a miracle of forethought. The first part’s interweaving of Bach/Liszt, Bach and then Liszt worked perfectly. First we heard the Bach/Liszt Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV542. Once the ear had (sort of) got used to the bright light of Fazioli, it became clear that Demidenko’s reading was intelligently conceived. The Fugue subject was well articulated in a very serious manner, and the bass-rich climax worked well. However, I referred to Feinberg’s 1950’s recording (on Arbiter 146) on arrival home to be greeted with new worlds of nuance and sensitivity in the Fugue, and even more gravitas in the Prelude.


The well-loved Italian Concerto was Demidenko’s next offering. The first movement said it all. Brisk with impressive finger-work, certainly, but where was the exuberance? The hyper-staccato left-hand for the Andante came as a surprise, but the right-hand was nicely expressive, while the hard articulation of the finale suited the bright piano.


After the bass-rich climax of BWV542, it was a surprise to hear Demidenko underplaying the dark side of Liszt’s Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, S180. Impressive in the difficult, echt-Lisztian Variations and showing himself capable of tenderness sin the placatory single-line recitative, this was the best of the first half. The Fazioli, too, earned its crust by showing that it can reveal clarity in cacophony! Unfortunately the Chorale was a little lumpy and Demidenko once more showed a tendency to pound the instrument at times.


Schubert’s wonderful Sonata in D, D850 was the single work in the second part of the recital. The first movement can easily sound technically clumsy, but there was no danger of that here. The problem came in another shape – the marking for the first movement is Allegro, not Allegrissimo/Presto. Amazingly, semiquavers had definition and clarity. Equally amazingly, this Schubert sounded like Schubert arranged by Liszt (was Demidenko taking the Liszt thing too far?!). The conception was certainly orchestral. If the second movement, Con moto, was better (well-weighted chords that actually sounded like Schubert), the return of the opening’s simplicity failed to make its emotive point. A nearly violent Scherzo contrasted well with its placatory Trio, although a bit more teasing humour in the latter would not have gone amiss. Talking of humour, the wit of the finale went for nothing. A plodding left-hand opened the way for a movement bereft of fantasy. A couple of short encores (I had expected more of them) rounded off an inconsistently impressive beginning to the 2006/7 International Piano Series.


Colin Clarke




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)