was born in Archangel, Russia,
in 1957. His father was an accordion teacher, his mother a pianist. They recognized his
talent early on.
Mikhail grew up in Kazan where he learnt several instruments,
including the piano. At the age of 13, he transferred to the
Central School of Music in Moscow to study under Yevgeny Timakin. In 1974,
Pletnev entered the Moscow
Conservatory, studying with Yakov Fliyer, and, after Fliyer's death, with Lev Vlasenko. At 21, Pletnev won
Gold Medal and First Prize in the 1978 Tchaikovsky International
Piano Competition in Moscow which allowed him to tour outside the Soviet
Union. His recording of his own arrangements from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker
suite and Shchedrin's Anna Karenina created a sensation.
In 1980, Pletnev made his debut as a director. As guest conductor,
he has directed the
Philharmonia Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 1988, he was
invited by General Secretary
Mikhail Gorbachev to perform at the superpower summit in Washington. In
1990, with the help of the private sector, Pletnev founded the Russian
National Orchestra (RNO), the first completely state-independent orchestra
since the revolution of 1917. In 1991, as the first Russian orchestra, the
RNO played a private concert in the Vatican for Pope Jean Paul II. In 1995,
Pletnev was awarded the first State Prize of the
Russian Federation by President Yeltsin. In 1999, Pletnev stepped down as
music director and principal conductor of the RNO, becoming its Conductor Laureate.
He continues his
collaboration with the orchestra, recording with and conducting it at home
and abroad. Vladimir
Spivakov took over Pletnev's position at the RNO.
[added on June 17, 2004: Mikhail Pletnev returned to the position of
Artistic director of the Russian National Orchestra in 2002, after Vladimir
Spivakov's short-lived unseccessful tenure].
is a pianist, director and composer. As soloist, he has appeared with Maazel, Giulini,
Haitink, Chailly, Sanderling, Nagano, Gergiev, Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra and others. Pletnev's recordings
include his transcriptions for piano of
Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Sleeping Beauty
(Philips, 1998; DG 1999). For his album of Scarlatti's Keyboard
Sonatas (Virgin Classics, EMI), he received a Gramophone Award in 1996. Pletnev's
Rachmaninov was recorded on the composer's own Steinway at
Rachmaninov's family home near Lucerne. As a composer, Pletnev's works include
Classical Symphony, Triptych for Symphony Orchestra, Fantasy on Kazakh
Themes for Violin and Orchestra and Capriccio for Piano and
Orchestra. At the end of 1998, his Concerto for Viola and Orchestra
premiered in Moscow with Yuri Bashmet as soloist. The world premiere
recording of Beethoven's Violin Concerto arranged by Pletnev for clarinet,
with Michael Collins as soloist, was released in 2000 (DG).
A selection of recordings, CD reviews
Concertos Nos 1-3. Pletnev and The Philharmonia under Vladimir
Fedoseyev. Virgin classics/EMI, 1991/1998.
In the Piano Concerto
No. 2, the pianist ennobles Tchaikovsky's "problem child".
He successfully mediates "between muscular magnificence, ballet-like
divertimento and chamber-music-like intimacy" (Cossé). Pletnev's
virtuosity, his indisputable technical abilities shine in this recording.
The fantasy, however, is partly lost.
Sleeping Beauty/Dornröschen/La belle au bois dormant. Complete
Recording. Pletnev and the RNO. 1999, DG. Tchaikovsky's Sleeping
Beauty was written in 1888/89. It is based on Charles Perrault's fairy
tale La Belle au bois dormant (1697). The success of Tchaikovsk'y
version was at first mainly due to the ballet and the costumes, less to
the music. In 1921, Diaghilev was one of the first to try to establish the
piece outside Russia with his Ballets Russes. Since then, parts of Sleeping
Beauty have become part of the standard ballet repertoire, especially
the role of the king's daughter, Aurora. But also the music has found its
admirers. In the past, Igor Stravinsky was one of the most famous ones.
The performance by Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra is
poetic, elegant and virtuous.
Great Pianists of the 20th Century. Mikhail Pletnev: Tchaikovsky. Philips, 1998.
The double-CD contains Pletnev's arrangement of Tchikovsky's Concert
Suite from "The Nutcracker", Les Saisons op. 37b (The
Months), music from The Sleeping Beauty, the Piano Concerto
No. 2 op. 44 and some smaller pieces. It is a compilation of
recordings spanning from 1978 to 1990. 1978 was the year he clearly won
the International Tchaikovsky Competition. Peter Cossé describes Pletnev
in the sleeve-notes as the "great, unapproachable strategist" and
a master of "romantic polyphony (or more concretely: emotional
counterpoint)". I can also fully subscribe to Cossé when he writes:
"Pletnev's self-control and rigour are the essential preconditions of
that freedom in presenting a work which invariably leads to willfulness in
lesser pianists." Curiously the CD in the series Great Pianists is
entirely focused on Tchaikovsky, although Cossé rightly points out that
Pletnev has a universal repertoire.
Rachmaninow: Symphony no. 1; The Isle of the
Dead. 2000, DG. Mikhail Pletnev, piano, and the Russian
Music is a matter of taste. Rachmaninov is one of my favorite composers
and the Symphony no. 1 as well as The Isle of the Dead are
among my favorite compositions. The First Symphony op. 13 premiered
in 1897. The performance, conducted by
Glazunov, proved a fiasco. The public's reaction was so
negative that the 24 year old Rachmaninov withdrew the symphony which was
never to be heard again during his lifetime. The sensitive Rachmaninov was
paralyzed for the next three years. Only after hypnosis treatment from
Nikolai Dahl, he could compose again in 1900. The symphony's score is
lost. It was reconstructed after the composers death from the orchestral
parts, discovered in 1945 at the Leningrad Conservatory. The symphonic
poem The Isle of the Dead was composed in 1909 and inspired by
Böcklin's painting of a solitary oarsman steering a body to its
resting-place on an island in the middle of a lake. Rachmaninov first saw
the famous romantic painting in a black-and-white reproduction. He
confessed that it had impressed him more than the original painting
because the colors mitigated the image. Therefore, Rachmaninov used a
narrow color range in his composition. According to David Brown, together
with the piece's monolithic structure, it produces an almost
claustrophobic intensity. Mikhail Pletnev's interpretation of the dramatic
and highly emotional music is never exaggerated. On the contrary, the
pianist plays in his distinctive, inimitable way which Peter Cossé
described as "red-hot self-control and fiery temperateness". The
Russian National Orchestra may not be the world's leading orchestra, but
critics who suggested that Pletnev's play do not come close to Ashkenazy's
versions are dead wrong. Pletnev's understanding of the compositions is
profound and his play is masterful, whereas Ashkenazy, whom I saw perform Rachmaninov
live at the end of the 1980s, did not know where he was going and could not convince emotionally. There may be people who do not
appreciate Pletnev's analytical style and who miss a certain passion.
Anyway, this CD is a masterpiece.
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 in A
minor; Slavonic Dances, 1998, DG. The
Third Symphony (1936) and the Symphonic Dances (1940) were Rachmaninov’s last two
orchestral works. The interpretation by Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra
is convincing. Their play is intensive and they do not neglect the irony.
It is just that the compositions are less appealing to me than the ones on
the CD mentioned above.
Hommage à Rachmaninov, 1999, DG.
Rachmaninov's Corelli Variations are not an original theme by Corelli but an
Iberian folk tune. The 22 miniature pieces are based on the same thematic material.
Pletnev recorded them on Rachmaninov's own
Steinway. In 1930, the composer had visited Switzerland and there, he
immediately fell in love with the countryside around Lake Lucerne. He
bought a plot of land in the village of Hertenstein on the lakeside where
he built the Villa Senar (named after Sergei
and Natalya Rachmaninov). There, the composer spent most summers during the 1930s.
The Steinway was delivered to his villa in 1933. Pletnev's play is full of
self-control, a combination of solemnity and humility. The reading of
Rachmaninov's composition is difficult, but Pletnev manages to give a
fluent and coherent rendition. He is, where needed, technically brilliant,
contemplative, almost obsessive, mysterious, funny or ethereal, carried
away, in the end not of this world anymore. Beethoven's Piano Sonata
op. 26 (Les Adieux) is analytical and at the same time transparent.
Mendelssohn's Andante Cantabile e Presto
Agitato as well as the Rondo Capriccioso are witty, but the
compositions are not my taste. Pletnev's rendition of Chopin's Grande
Polonaise op. 22 is poetic, intimate and brilliant. An esthetic joy.
Rachmaninov's four Etudes-Tableaux are not as touching as they
could be, but a testimony of Pletnev's cool organizing intelligence.
Nos 2 in D minor, 7 and 8 in B flat, 1998, DG.The
Sonata No 2 is a student work by Prokofiev, completed in September
1912, when he was still at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The
last two sonatas recorded belong to Prokofiev’s War trilogy. Pletnev
uses at times very special tempi to express himself. Despite some
disputable choices, an interesting recording. Cossé describes Pletnev as
a "moderating dramaturge in Prokofiev".
Scriabin: Symphony no. 3 (Le divin
poème) op. 43, Poem of Ecstasy op. 54. 1999, DG. Scriabin
began his career as a virtuoso from the Moscow Conservatory. Most of the
music he composed is for piano. Written between 1902 and 1904, Scriabin's Symphony
No. 3 was completed after he had resigned from his teaching post at
the Moscow Conservatory in 1903. He transferred his attention from his
wife Vera to Tatiana de Schloezer, a cult philosopher, who
"encouraged Scriabin in his fantastic belief in himself as a godlike
fount of creativity and as the possessor of not simply a creative gift but
of all creative potential in the universe" (Hugh Macdonald). Scriabin
became more and more mystical. Pletnev, with his masterful overview, found
convincing solutions for the problems the composition offers. Pletnev's
performance is transparent, colorful and technically
flawless. On this recording, the Russian National Orchestra plays on the
same level as the pianist. For some listeners, the Divine Poem as
well as the Poem of Ecstasy op. 54, completed in 1908, may
lack Scriabin's madness, but for once, in Pletnev's and the RNO's
rendition, the entire compositions make sense.
Scriabin: 24 Preludes,
Sonatas Nos 4 and 10, etc. 1997, Virgin classics/EMI. On this CD,
Pletnev has recorded a series of Scriabin's piano works composed between
1888 and 1908. Scriabin himself developed a dazzling technique and an
almost magic touch which translated into his compositions. The 24 Preludes
are post-Romantic works. Scriabin was not imitating Chopin's Ballades,
but took their musical language further. Pletnev recorded the Preludes
live at St. George's, Brandon Hill, in Bristol, on January 29-31, 1996. His
technique is as outstanding as ever. In the Sonata No.4 in F sharp
major op.30, the music suddenly shifts, after the Andante, into
a Prestissimo volando. Swings in mood and tension are not only
particularities in this composition, they are also a strong point of
Pletnev's play. The result is a remarkable CD.
Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor;
Après une lecture de Dante; Gnomenreigen. 1998, DG. Pletnev's refined
lecture of the pieces and the clarity of his sound are remarkable. As
often, he makes some controversial choices. The cold-blooded Pletnev plays
neither heroic nor ardent. For some listeners, he lacks the emotion
necessary for Liszt as shown by Horowitz and others in the past.
Grieg: Lyric Pieces,
Piano Sonata op. 7, Seven Fugues for Piano, Carnival Scene op. 19 no. 3.
2000, DG. The Lyric Pieces are considered Grieg's most important contribution to the piano
literature. Pletnev recorded a dozen of the 66 romantic compositions. Titles such as
Butterfly are very popular. In that particular piece, Pletnev takes a
few liberties, but, what counts, is the result. His lecture, as in most
cases, is seductive. The Carnival Scene is from Grieg's cycle Pictures
from Life in the Country and represented by two typical Norwegian
dances. Grieg wrote the seven Fugues for Piano EG 184a-g in Leipzig
in 1861-62 as a student of the later Thomaskantor Ernst Friedrich Richter. Pletnev's
CD offers the fugues in a world premiere recording in his instinctive mix
of profound understanding and distance, as if he would look at himself
performing from the outside. The playing is subtle and transparent. Pletnev
does not give himself up to emotions like Martha Argerich or Maria Joao
Pires. But his controlled play is not less convincing. It is just another
way of looking at Grieg's Norwegian Romanticism.
Hob. XVIII:4 in G major, Hob. XVIII:7 in F major, Hob. XVIII:11 in D major.
Virgin classics/EMI, 1996. Pletnev tried to overturn history’s
judgment of Haydn’s keyboard concertos as a minor part of
his output. Pletnev took a fresh look at the German composer and showed
new sides of his concertos. His expressive and colorful interpretation is
striking. His first-rate collaboration with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie
produced a substantial album. The pianist's technique is as perfect as
usual, but the result is nothing for purists. Pletnev
used the Peters edition
for several concertos where he should have used the text by Henle.
Virgin Classics/EMI, 1995. Pletnev's two-disc set with 31 of Domenico Scarlatti's
(1685-1757) 550-odd Keyboard Sonatas, composed during the last 18
years of his life, justly received the
Gramophone Instrumental Award in 1996. Scarlatti wrote the Sonatas
in the Baroque period for the harpsichord. Pletnev recorded them on the
piano, today's instrument, giving life to the rich musical universe of the
composer which includes songs and dances of flamenco, processions,
serenades, laments, early folk as well as court and church music.
Pletnev's outstanding performance gives credit to all the imaginative and
exotic richness of Scarlatti. The album puts him on the same level as Vladimir Horowitz,
the great 20th century interpreter of the Baroque maestro. A must.
Mikhail Pletnev at the Lucerne Piano
Festival, November 24, 2000
The Russian pianist Mikhail
Pletnev began the evening with Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of
Corelli op. 42 (1931). In 1999, Pletnev had recorded it on Rachmaninov's own
Steinway at the Villa Senar in Hertenstein (Hommage à
Rachmaninov, DG) near Lucerne,
where the composer spent most summers during the 1930s. At the Lucerne Piano
Festival however, Pletnev played a Bösendorfer. The Corelli Variations,
based on baroque music, are an ideal piece for the Russian pianist who has the
astonishing capacity to switch with ease from one mood to an other. The way
the rhythmic specificities and the different voices of the variations was
Scriabin's Sonata No. 4
op. 30 (1903) was next. Pletnev's Andante was cool and the tone
brilliant. The Attacca was transparent, but played in a reserved
way. The Prestissimo volando was precise, its structure became, in
Pletnev's hands, an open book to all listeners. One may have wished less
control towards the end. But Pletnev is not a pianist who lets himself
go. His interpretation may have lacked the fantastic dimension and passion, but it
always made sense. In that sense, the rendition lived up to Scriabin's
intent to express the human will power.
After the break, Pletnev
turned to Chopin's Scherzi No. 1-4 op. 20 (1831/32),
31 (1837), 39 (1838/39) and op 54 (1841/42). His
interpretation was brilliant. Pletnev let
the music flow with technical ease and, at the same time, he was profound
and full of Chopin's intended tension. Nobody
achieves such structural clarity in his interpretation as Pletnev. He
did not wallow in emotions. His play varied between an almost brutal
directness and a lyric tone. The Scherzi No.1 and 2 were the
concert's highlights. Neither in the powerful beginnings nor in the poetic passages
did he look for cheap effects.
In the third Scherzo,
he opened up abysses playing with his distinctive "cold
heat". The fourth Scherzo is different from the previous ones.
No darkness, no drama. The pureness and clarity of Pletnev's sound
together with its transparency was breathtaking. He has the astonishing
capacity to make us hear things we never heard before. He not
only reveals the structures of a composition like nobody else, he also has
the gift to improvise in a logical context.
The concert was relatively
short and the applause overwhelming. The consequence were three encores
which, with their about 15 minutes of running time, built a third part of the
evening. Pletnev started with a piece of Rachmaninov's Etudes-Tableaux op. 33
(1911). He remained in the romantic field with dramatic moments. In the
end, he let the sound fading out in a masterful manner. Moritz Moszkowski's Etude de virtuosité
offered Pletnev the opportunity to show his virtuousity as well as his
humorous side. Balakirev's Islamey (Oriental
Fantasy) was the last encore. Once more, the pianist combined technical
ease with transparency and offered a poetic and colorful firework in his
bright, metallic tone. A more than deserved standing ovation
marked the end of the concert.