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No. 12, December 2000
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.


Mikhail Pletnev. Photograph: DG.


 
Pletnev: Haydn/Mozart. Virgin/EMI,
September 2003. Get it from:
- Amazon.fr
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Pletnev: Prokofiev/Rachmaninov
Concertos for Piano no. 3
. Deutsche
Grammophon, 2003. Get it from:
- Directmedia Schweiz
- Amazon.fr 
 

Mikhail Pletnev: Live at Carnegie Hall.
DG, 2001. Get the CD from:
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Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping 
Beauty
. January 2000, DG.
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Great Pianists of the 20th Century.
Pletnev: Tchaikovsky, Philips, 1998.
 
 
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos
Nos 1-3
. Fedoseyev/Philharmonia.
1998, Virgin Classics/EMI.
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Rachmaninov: Symphony no. 1, 
The Isle of the Dead

August 2000, DG.
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Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3,
Symphonic Dances
, 1998, DG.
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Pletnev: Hommage à
Rachmaninov
, 1999, DG.
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Scriabin: Symphony no. 3,
Le Poème de l'Exstase
, 1999, DG.
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Scriabin: Piano Works
1997, Virgin Classics/EMI.
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Prokofiev: Piano Sonatas 
nos. 2,7,8
. 1998, DG.
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- Bei Directmedia Schweiz
 

Liszt: Sonata in B minor. 1998, DG.
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Grieg: Lyric Pieces, Piano Sonata
in E minor op. 7, 7 Fugues
. March
2000, DG.
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Chopin: Waltzes, Etudes, etc., DG.
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1996, Virgin Classics/EMI.
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Scarlatti: Sonatas.
1995, Virgin Classics/EMI.
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Mikhail Pletnev
biography, concert and CD reviews
 
Biography
 
M
ikhail Pletnev
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 the 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].
 
Pletnev 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 Homage to 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
 
Tchaikovsky: Piano 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.
 
Tchaikovsky: The 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 National Orchestra. 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.
 
Prokofiev: Sonatas 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.
 
Haydn: Concertos 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.
 
Scarlatti: Sonatas. 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.
 
Concert review
Mikhail Pletnev at the Lucerne Piano Festival, November 24, 2000

 
T
he 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 Pletnev sensed the rhythmic specificities and the different voices of the variations was remarkable.
 
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.

 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 12, December 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.