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Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
Moscow Recital, 1979
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Clavier Suite in A Minor BMV 818a [15.37]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in F Major K17 [3.57]
Sonata in G Minor K8 [5.44]
Sonata in G Major K259 [3.26]
Sonata in D Major K96 (La Caccia) [5.04]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in F Major Op 10 No. 2 [16.29]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor Op 58 [27.47]
Nocturne in F Major Op 15 No. 1 [5.22]
Waltz in A Flat Major Op 64 No. 3 [3.19]
Waltz in F Major Op 34 No. 3 [2.33]
Nocturne in E Minor Op 72 No. 1 [5.08]
rec. live, 31 October 1979, Grand Hall Moscow Conservatory
MELODIYA MELCD1002581 [2 CDs: 50.25 + 44.14]

This recording took place a year after Pletnev won the sixth Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition and it has never previously been released on CD.  It encompasses a wide range of repertoire, spanning the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods and shows him at the height of his powers.

Pletnev opens with Bach’s Suite in A Minor which is less well known than the English Suite in the same key.  His finger-work in the opening Prelude and concluding Gigue is dazzling and both movements are tossed off with virtuoso brio.  There is also space for reflection in this performance both in the probing Allemande and in the Sarabande. The Sarabande is played with great pathos and nobility, with Pletnev emphasising the expansive, monumental nature of the piece.  He applies the full resources of the concert grand to this work so the performance is probably not one for Baroque purists but it is dazzling on its own terms.

He next presents us with a small set of four contrasting Scarlatti sonatas.  Scarlatti is one of the composers he has become most associated with, although I have rather mixed feelings about his playing.  The sonatas here show him taking up the mantle of Horowitz and giving us performance of great flair and virtuosity. One cannot help but be bowled over by the scintillating Spanish guitar effects and the dazzling runs in the F Major Sonata.  There is a striking contrast between the intensity of the G Minor Sonata with its dotted rhythms and its light, effervescent and scampering companion piece in G Major. Pletnev concludes the set with ‘La Caccia’ which was a great favourite of Horowitz.  He summons a range of orchestral sonorities from his Steinway and dazzles with his rapid repeated notes, hand-crossing and rapid-fire passagework.

The first CD concludes with the early period Beethoven Sonata in F Major Op 10 No. 2.  Pletnev’s performance of this work is an absolute delight from start to finish. He relishes the Haydnesque wit in the opening Allegro and there is close attention to phrasing and dynamics.  There is perfect feeling of equipoise in the Allegretto second movement, as Pletnev shifts seamlessly from minor to major. The fugal finale is taken at a very brisk pace and one cannot help but marvel at the clarity of the finger-work.  The lightness and brilliance of the playing bring the sonata to an exhilarating conclusion. This is a performance to savour and worthy to stand alongside those by Barenboim, Brendel and others.

The second CD consists solely of music by Chopin, and while much of the playing is exceptionally fine, I had mixed feelings about some of the artistic decisions taken.  The main work on the programme is Chopin’s great B Minor Sonata, written in 1844. The opening movement is highly Romantic and has a free, fantasia-like feeling to it. Pletnev’s performance seems to harken back to the golden age of pianism and there is a clear debt to artists like Cortot.  The quaver runs in the scherzo second movement are dazzling, although the trio section feels a little inconsequential. The great Largo third movement is gorgeous, spellbinding playing which would melt the coldest of hearts. The driving rhythms of the finale sweep us along although some of the decorative effects are a little calculated and there are a few minor inaccuracies.

Pletnev concludes his recital with a selection of Chopin’s nocturnes and waltzes.  The Waltz in F Major in particular is a delight and deservedly greeted with rapturous applause from the audience.

Robert Beattie

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