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Behold the Mighty Matsuev

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
10/15/2013 -  
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Opus 30 Ė Symphonic Dances, Opus 45

Denis Matsuev (Piano)
Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev (Music Director and Conductor)

D. Matsuev (© Audrey Mastafaev)

When granted Three Wishes, I usually opt for world peace, an end to disease, and economic equality. Since last night, this has changed dramatically. Now my Three Wish options are to hear Denis Matsuev and Valery Gergiev perform Sergei Rachmaninoffís Third Piano Concerto in Carnegie Hall at least three more times.

This may not be the most profound concerto in the world, its difficulties are probably rivaled (though the composer Rachmaninoff said it was written for elephants), and Horowitz may be the most dazzling performer of the truncated version.

But the 40-odd minute performance last night with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra may well be a truly towering performance.

Maybe it takes a live Carnegie Hall concert to bring out the best of Matsuev, for his recording has little personality on its own. Last night, taking the first movement fractionally slower than the composerís own playing, he built up the unusual episodic structure into a series of melodies and climaxes which were literally mesmerizing. Even knowing when the great pre-cadenza climax comes, Mr. Gergiev held the Mariinsky Orchestra, not with lushness but with such tension that when the pianist broke into the great climax, it was less a composition than a pre-ordained revelation.

This was the third of Mr. Gergievís concerts with the Mariinsky Orchestra, and from reports of the Stravinsky and Shostakovich performances, a mighty way to celebrate his 60th birthday. But to have a soloist like Mr. Matsuev on the piano, one felt that it was celebration of Rachmaninoff himself.

True enough, Mr. Matsuevís muscularity could have barged through all the bravura of the Concerto when necessary. But oh, the fluid legato of the first theme, and the non-blurred thunder with the arpeggios of the finale. At times, in this last movement, I had the feeling that he could have swept the keys under this fingers, thrown them in the air, and let them fall back on the piano before continuing. But no, this was a strength that could be held back when necessary.

Any audience waits for the first-movement cadenza, but Mr. Matsuevís lyrical clarity was so emotionally extraordinary in this emotionally complex that the cadenza was only a continuation of the architecture.

When lesser pianists take this Concerto we can hear waves of thrilling moments. Mr. Matsuev eschewed the waves, taking the particles and building them into a musical architecture. Yet, one still remembers Leonard Bernsteinís rule that if he didnít get an orgasm during music, it wasnít good music. I have certain doubts about some composers (a sexy Webern or lubricious Telemann isnít quite conceivable), but the young Sergei Rachmaninoff fits the emotional bill, and Matsuev is the right person for it.

Personally I didnít want any encores after this, but Matsuev surprised the audience with an improvised Duke Ellington Take the A Train. Such fingerwork would make Art Tatum or Oscar Peterson hide in shameful darkness. Mr. Matsuev live, no matter what the music, is one of the Titans of our time.

V. Gergiev (© Marco Borggreve)

Mr. Gergiev took Rachmaninoffís final piece, the Symphonic Dances, and didnít need any baton to make his great soloistsĖhis First Chair violin, his plangent Russian oboe, the growling brassĖfor the first movements.

With the last movement, Mr. Gergievís fluttering fingers brought out the full force of the Mariinsky Orchestra. One felt regrets that when the composer used his usual Dies Irae motive, it actually signaled his own death. But, after an encore from Parsifal, one felt no regrets, for Mr. Gergiev had offered an unapproachable evening.

Harry Rolnick



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