Denis Matsuev plays Liszt

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Franz Liszt
ALBUM TITLE: Denis Matsuev plays Liszt
WORKS: Piano Concertos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Denis Matsuev (piano); Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: 88697989452

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Here is an authentically Russian, hairy-chested take on all three of Liszt’s piano-orchestral works. If you like your Liszt concertos to sound like Tchaikovsky (and there’s no final reason why you shouldn’t), then the First Concerto’s opening bars will here have you purring happily away. Rapier-like Lisztian élan? Perish the thought: Mikhail Pletnev and Denis Matsuev announce themselves in pile-driving style, followed (of course) by a contrast of tempo in the Quasi adagio second section that’s exaggeratedly slow. While Martha Argerich’s brilliance and finesse leave all this at the post, you have to admire Matsuev’s fearsome virtuosity at headlong pace, and an Allegretto vivace scherzo section that darts and flickers as required.

The Second Concerto’s broader-brushed idiom suits the Matsuev-Pletnev style better, and while the final stretto is taken at show-off velocity, the result is an eyebrow-raising tour de force nonetheless. The Totentanz performance is the most successful of the three: the work’s sequence of short sections hangs together strikingly well, and there’s a deft awareness of the ironic side of Liszt’s ‘diabolism’ style, plus a remarkable sense of space in the slow passages.

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Malcolm Hayes