> Alexander Mogilevsky Debut Recital (EMI) [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Fantasien, op. 116: nos. 4, 5, 6 (not 2, 4, 5 as advertised)
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Kinderszenen, op. 15
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata no. 7 in B flat, op. 83
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750), transcribed by Alexander SILOTI (1863-1945)

Prelude in B minor (from the Prelude in E minor, Book I)
Alexander Mogilevsky (pianoforte)
Recorded 2.2002 in the Auditorium of Swiss-Italian Radio, Lugano
EMI CLASSICS CDM 5 67934 2 [57’42"]


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Alexander Mogilevsky was born in 1977, won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Pianists in 1992 and has appeared in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Warsaw and a range of other European musical centres, as well as touring Japan.

The shock when the disc starts with the fourth intermezzo instead of the second is mild compared to that induced by what Mogilevsky does with it. I can only describe his Brahms as a catalogue of aberrations. The opening triplet rhythm is distorted. I’m not being academic, what he does goes light-years beyond any reasonable rubato and amounts to re-composition. Note values are lengthened or shortened at will – does he know there are supposed to be three beats in the bar? – and sometimes a note is suddenly played so quietly you can strain your ears and even then not be sure whether he has played it or not. And, more than once, the "vanishing" note is actually the apex of a phrase Brahms has marked with a hair-pin crescendo-diminuendo. If he doesn’t feel like playing notes together he doesn’t, if he feels like bringing a note out in the middle of the texture for no apparent reason at all he does so, and he changes tempo with the wildest of liberty. 5 and 6 are no better; the extremely problematical no. 5 completely falls apart. Just where is the grace Brahms asked for and does the word not imply some sort of regular movement? Incidentally, the listener who tries to reconcile Tim Parry’s penetrating observations on no. 5 with the serene no. 6 – is it possible that nobody in the production line noticed the discrepancy between the pieces listed and those played? – are in for a perplexing time. This is not Brahms, it is Brahms arr. Mogilevsky and should have been advertised as such.

Kinderszenen is a notoriously high-risk area for this sort of treatment and at times it gets it. Here, though, I must say that Mogilevsky does at least understand that you’ve got to set up a rhythm before you pull it to smithereens. Most of the pieces at least start attractively and it must be said that the actual sound is right for the composer, mellow and singing. The first, for example, proceeds fairly normally, bar some odd voice-leading, until the repeat of the second half. But then a devil gets into Mogilevsky and he does everything possible to disrupt the flow. The last but one, Child falling asleep is, as a dentist would say, unerupted all round and we can at last appreciate Mogilevsky’s possible potentialities. This is all the more a relief coming after a very oddly distorted Frightening. Heavy weather is made of Traumerei.

I wasn’t unduly enthusiastic about Murray McLachlan’s Prokofiev in a Brilliant set of all the Prokofiev, Scriabin and Shostakovich Sonatas, but what balm to return to his honest, unfussy musicianship after this. At least he unfolds the opening pages of the 7th with shape and a sense of growth. Mogilevsky is not unrhythmical but his way of stabbing at notes that are not marked to be stabbed at pulls things out of focus and leaves the impression that he is just pecking at the surface of the music. In the "Andantino" sections he goes in for every wilful distortion available, giving the impression that the music is just drooling nonsense. And how much more mannered his presentation of the great "Andante caloroso" theme sounds each time it comes round, really irritating after McLachlan’s simple nobility, and none too ingratiating in tone quality. At least he doesn’t tear through the "Precipitato" finale – the tempo is the same as McLachlan’s. But where McLachlan builds it up cumulatively Mogilevsky with his jabs and stabs seems to be improvising a boogie-woogie.

The Siloti Bach transcription is a weird and rather wonderful document. Mogilevsky is sensitive towards its tone-colours. If only he wouldn’t halt before every change of harmony – it gets so tiresomely predictable.

I really find it impossible to say whether there might be pianistic and musical gold under all this dross; at present the aberrations are too widely and generously applied for any to reach us.

This latest batch of pianoforte debut albums are "presented" by Martha Argerich, which means she supplies a seven-line general introduction to the whole series. It would have been interesting to know why she thought this pianist deserves our attention and she might have defended him against the adverse reactions that she surely she must have realised were likely. And whoever is artistically responsible for this series should have seen that EMI’s reputation is ill served by this disc.

Christopher Howell


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