Nikolai Demidenko Recital
It's a wonderful thing when a recital begins with two works played so beautifully that you'll be content if you never hear them done any better. Nikolai Demidenko, a tall, thin gentleman in his fifties with a beard, and a professorial demeanor lives and breathes these works of Medtner with such naturalness that everything seems exactly as it should be. He plays with ease (he never seems to struggle with the instrument), produces a warm and gorgeous tone, and conveys the Russian wistfulness, poignancy and every other emotion inherent in this music.
The Corelli Variations of Rachmaninoff were played a bit slower than one might hear them in other performances. This seemed to be a rather "classical" performance of a great Romantic work, rhythmically rather straight, and having great clarity, yet finding interesting elements on which to focus, such as the play between two voices in one of the earlier variations, a sense of brooding in another, and great swells of sound in a third.
In the Berceuse of Chopin I was reminded of something I had been less consciously aware of in the Medtner. Which is that in successful performances of the music of either, and especially Chopin, there is a poetry to the beat, a uniting of rubato with the basic pulse, so that the beat is neither a chaos nor a prosaic "ein, zwei, drei." The real challenge of the Berceuse is not playing the fast filigree passages, which anyone who is now a pianist can easily do, but in finding a pacing which is natural and convincing. This Mr. Demidenko did wonderfully. That he found other lovely details to emphasize, such as little bells when playing A-Flats and C-Flats on the last page, added to the magical, almost weightless effect.
The Polonaise-Fantasie, which Mr. Demidenko chose to play immediately after the Berceuse, without a pause, received a strong performance with many shadings, and a feeling of spontaneity in the quasi-recitative sections. The B Major middle section received a spacious, stately reading.
The B-Flat Minor Sonata reminded one what a fine Romantic as well as individual pianist Mr. Demidenko is. He is not trying to out-horowitz Horowitz. Which is refreshing. His tempi for the first two movements were a bit slower than that of other pianists, but perfectly convincing for this listener, full of deep feeling, beautiful tone and natural flow. The Funeral March had some interesting effects. Mr. Demidenko chose to lean on fourth beats, perhaps to shove on into the next measure. And in the D-Flat middle section, instead of using lots of pedal, and playing the left hand as an accompaniment to the right, he played the two hands rather as a duet, using hardly any pedal. In the last movement, perhaps the strangest, most abstract piece Chopin ever wrote, Mr. Demidenko stayed within a fairly narrow frame of volume but succeeded in giving shape to something which seems almost formless.
Warmly received by the audience, Mr. Demidenko played two encores. He first gave an absolutely smashing (though with beautiful tone) reading of Medtner's B Minor Fairy Tale, Op. 20, No. 2, and then played a surprisingly perky performance of the Bach/Busoni Wachet Auf.