A Russian Who Ignores Those Old Stereotypes
It seems odd that a pianist as accomplished as Dmitri Alexeev does not perform in New York more often than he does. Now 63, Mr. Alexeev studied at the Moscow Conservatory and won a string of competition prizes in the early 1970s. But he has sidestepped the stereotypes of both Russian pianism (big, brawny and loud) and the international competition style (dazzling but risk averse). His recital on Wednesday as part of the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at the Mannes College the New School for Music showed him to be a thoughtful, poetic player willing to go out on a limb, interpretively, usually to superb effect.
In the first half of his program Mr. Alexeev concentrated on Schumann, beginning with “Blumenstück” (Op. 19), the inventive set of miniatures and variations that Schumann composed in 1839 with the idea of depicting aspects of love as a series of flower portraits. That is a lot to ask of a group of juxtaposed short pieces, but Schumann’s lyrical gifts served him well here. Mr. Alexeev capitalized on the sweet, changeable themes, playing with an almost vocal sense of shape and made the serenity of the work’s final passage seem surprising and magical.
“Kreisleriana,” which shared the first half with “Blumenstück,” is a tougher nut: Schumann’s imagination runs wilder here, and the demands that he makes on a pianist are greater, in both breadth of expression and pure technique. The work gave Mr. Alexeev an immediate opportunity to tap into the more tempestuous side of his style, but, more important, it let him play to one of his strengths: the ability to move with deft fluidity between extremes of agitation and elegance. And on the purely technical side a listener had to admire the evenness of Mr. Alexeev’s chord voicings and his supple balancing of the work’s themes and supporting figuration.
These same qualities, and an extra measure of gracefulness, illuminated “The Lark,” Balakirev’s sparkling fantasy on a gently warbling song by Glinka, which opened the second half. Mr. Alexeev’s flexible tempos and dynamics highlighted the mystery and intensity of Scriabin’s Four Preludes (Op. 22), and the decision to play a group of shorter Scriabin works and several Chopin mazurkas without pause proved oddly effective. By starting with a rubato-rich account of Scriabin’s “Quasi Valse” (Op. 47) and including the lyrical “Two Poems” (Op. 69) and Two Études (Op. 42), Mr. Alexeev suggested a connection in spirit, if not in substance, between the composers.
He closed the program with a feisty performance of Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise in A flat. The excitement of this animated, rhythmically freewheeling reading was in the way that Mr. Alexeev flirted with allowing the work to spin out of control, without ever losing its structural thread.