Friday 24 November 2023

DENIS MATSUEV'S CONCERT / Denis Matsuev & Friends / Review


Capitol Theatre

Tuesday (21 November 2023)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 23 November 2023 with the title "Pianist Denis Matsuev thrills packed hall with improvisatory flair and jazz detour".


Denis Matsuev is already well-known to most pianophiles. Awarded 1st prize at the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1998, the Russian pianist also served as jury chairman in its most recent edition in June this year. He last performed in Singapore in 2014 as soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra under Valery Gergiev.


Despite relative lack of publicity, Capitol Theatre was filled to the rafters for his 80-minute concert performed without intermission. Matsuev is well-known for his encores, so the first 45 minutes was a uninterrupted progression of "Bis", the popular German term for shorts performed after a main programme. 


Opening with Handel’s Aria and Variations, or “The Harmonious Blacksmith", he revealed an improvisatory approach to music. Pulling and stretching tempos at will, it seemed like a jazzman's take on the baroque piece, finally letting go as the variations got more rapid and increasingly florid. 

@ Pianomania


This was followed by the finale from Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, a never-ending cycle of perpetual motion, its dynamo finding resolution with Schubert’s beautifully lyrical Impromptu in G flat major. As circus acts go, there was little to match Moritz Moszkowski’s La Jongleuse (The Juggler) with ever-widening arcs of tossing and spinning, where Matsuev obliged with sleights of hand and a winking charm.


In Chopin’s elegant Waltz in C sharp minor (Op.64 No.2), the tendency was to emphasise the grand manner and lay it on thick. This particularly characterised pieces from his homeland, as Tchaikovsky’s Autumn Song (October from The Seasons) was possessed by nostalgia which became breathtakingly full-blown in Rachmaninov’s popular Vocalise. He performed the unfussy Alan Richardson transcription also favoured by piano greats Emil Gilels and Evgeny Kissin.


Denis Matsuev addressed the audience
mostly in English although he did
say some Russian words at the end

@ Pianomania

Two Rachmaninov Preludes completed the classical segment, and one will not hear more full-blooded readings of the C sharp minor (Op.3 No.2), sometimes called Bells Of Moscow, and the martially-inspired G minor (Op.23 No.5). His penchant to thunder on the much-amplified C.Bechstein grand piano makes him Lang Lang’s biggest rival in the volume department.


Joined by bassist Andrei Ivanov and drummer Alexander Singer, Matsuev let down his hair and showed chops for serious jamming. Now unconstrained by the need to be correct and polite, the Matsuev jazz trio truly rocked in rude health. Their first offering was not an arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but rather a free improvisation on themes from Gershwin, and not necessarily in the right sequence.


It was more like 10% Gershwin and 90% Matsuev and Gang, but the result was none the worse for it. His ability to improvise and run circles and pirouettes around motifs could only have been honed in smoky dives, doing so with a free-wheeling insouciance and substance-driven intensity. Spots for ad-libbing spots by both bassist and  drummer were also cheered on by the audience.

@ Pianomania


Matsuev’s own Ballade showed moments of reflection before rising to ecstatic throes, and the trio closed the evening with extended improvisations on three movements from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt. One will never hear the rampaging In the Hall of the Mountain King the same way again.

@ Pianomania

All photos by Bechstein Music World unless underwise stated.

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