TCHAIKOVSKY 18 Pieces for Piano Pletnev

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FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN

Nocturne No. 20 op. posth.
+ Tchaikovsky: 18 Pieces for
Solo Piano op. 72
Mikhail Pletnev
Int. Release 01 Apr. 2005
1 CD / Download
0289 477 5378 0 CD DDD GH
Live recording · Konzertmitschnitt
"That Pletnev was able to present eighteen pieces straight through is a very particular type of alchemy - such unification and imagination constitutes an act of uncommon devotion, searching and élan." KonzertReview (Zurich), May 2004


You still have to admire a virtuoso Russian pianist so devoted to out of the way Tchaikovsky . . . These worthy little pieces may well sound as if they were composed by someone else entirely . . . It¿s as if Pletnev were repainting the composer¿s standard museum portrait -- and brilliantly so too.

Pletnev plays them immaculately, but characterizes each with a masterful feel for tone color . . . Pletnev indulges in mercurial tempo changes and sudden shifts in dynamics, but every adjustment sounds vital and effortless.

Mikhail Pletnev has always shown tremendous sympathy for the music of Tchaikovsky: as a conductor he's made some very fine symphonic recordings, but it's the pianist Pletnev whose devotion to the composer's cause is most gratifying. He plays these rarely encountered works with his customary flair, imbuing every note with real passion and understanding. In the course of this live Zurich recording, Pletnev brings these 18 miniatures vividly to life . . . His caring, characterful and technically transcendent way with this cycle casts each piece in a three-dimensional perspective that honours the composer's letter and spirit beyond the music's 'salon' reputation, while making the most of its pianistic potential. The results are revelatory . . .

[Pletnev] again reveals his pianistic excellence and imaginative scope. The intensity with which Pletnev characterises each of these miniatures brings the music vividly to life . . . this is an exceptional disc.

. . . Pletnev's fervent advocacy of the music is never in doubt and he is particularly successful in conveying the wit and whimsy . . . He also displays rather astounding virtuosity . . .

This music is for those who love the more intimate piano literature of the 19th century. The excellent liner notes by Mario Gerteis set the context beautifully . . . Pletnev displays ample devotion to Tchaikovsky's music, a lovely lyrical sense, and technical ability.

The best are those that allow Pletnev to display his virtuosity: the "Polacca de concert," "Scherzo-fantaisie," and "L'espiègle." His passagework glitters; runs are perfectly equalized. Each note is taken with an even, leggiera touch maintained regardless of the range of dynamics involved . . . Engineering is good, both rich and immediate.

[Rob Cowan:] And were I to receive a disc that proves the musical worth of Tchaikovsky's shorter piano pieces it would have to be Mikhail Pletnev's breathtaking set of the Morceaux, Op 72, among the most exquisite Romantic piano recordings after those of Horowitz.
[Jed Distler:] Of the 2005 new releases I reviewed in these pages, one towers above the rest, namely Mikhail Pletnev's live Tchaikovsky disc on DG. Unhackneyed repertoire and a performance of genius combine for a perfect gift from me or anyone else.

Er will nicht spielen, was in, sondern was hinter den Noten steht. In Tschaikowskys letztem Klavierwerk liegt das Verborgene irgendwo im Niemandsland von elegischer Empfindsamkeit.

Pletnev gibt jedem einzelnen Stück ein eigenes, klares Profil und sorgt mit seinem sparsamen Gebrauch des Pedals für hohe klangliche Durchsichtigkeit. Dass er dabei selbst in dem an Liszts "Liebestraum" Nr. 1 anklingenden "Chant élégiaque" jede Sentimentalität meidet, fällt dabei ebenso positiv auf wie seine agogische Differenziertheit in den beiden Walzern oder in der "Mazurque pour danser".

Da die Stücke weder übermäßig gedankenvoll noch gedankenverloren sein wollen, glauben hingegen Pianisten immer wieder, sie schnell mit Salon-Parfüm einnebeln zu müssen. Bei Mikhail Pletnev duftet es zwar auch. So leicht und elegant Pletnev die Atmosphäre einfängt, so ungetrübt ist sein Blick dann doch für die von ihm gesuchten und gefundenen Gestaltungsmöglichkeiten. Wie schon bei den Miniaturen von Beethoven und Grieg ist man bei Mikhail Pletnevs Live-Aufnahme mitten im Geschehen, darf allein die "Polacca de concert" sich von der kraftvollen und brillanten Seite zeigen. Bis hinein ins spektakuläre Finale, bei dem es mit Donnerschlägen, aber nicht ordinär
robust die Tastatur rauf und runter geht. Pletnevs Stärken, seine Konzentration auf Transparenz und nuancenreiche Artikulation lassen ihn hier genauso wenig im Stich, wie er in dem kecken "Fünckchenwalzer" die genaue Mischung aus lyrischer Intimität und kühner Sportlichkeit im Griff hat. Dabei kann sich Pletnev auf eine pianistische Makellosigkeit und Modernität verlassen, die bei ihm so selbstverständlich ist, dass dies eigentlich nicht ausdrücklich erwähnt werden müsste.

Wie schon bei den Miniaturen von Beethoven und Grieg ist man bei Mikhail Pletnevs Live-Aufnahme mitten im Geschehen, darf allein die "Polacca de concert" sich von der kraftvollen und brillanten Seite zeigen. Bis hinein ins spektakuläre Finale, bei dem es mit Donnerschlägen, aber nicht ordinär robust die Tastatur rauf und runter geht. Pletnevs Stärken, seine Konzentration auf Transparenz und nuancenreiche Artikulation lassen ihn hier genauso wenig im Stich, wie er in dem kecken "Fünckchenwalzer" die genaue
Mischung aus lyrischer Intimität und kühner Sportlichkeit im Griff hat. Dabei kann sich Pletnev auf eine pianistische Makellosigkeit und Modernität verlassen, die bei ihm so selbstverständlich ist . . .

. . . avec son jeu inventif, souple et léger, Pletnev est le meilleur avocat que l'on pouvait espérer pour ce recueil . . . cette musique -- souvent rapidement condamnée pour sa supposée pauvreté -- montre ici une richesse inattendue.

. . . Mikhail Pletnev transfigure ce cycle par son jeu inventif et juste. Loin de tout lyrisme salonnard, c'est à une véritable redécouverte qu'on assiste, tellement le pianiste fait preuve d'engagement, de finesse, de virtuosité et d'intelligence. Avec en bis le 20e Nocturne de Chopin, ce récital est d'une richesse surprenante.

. . . es obvio que el pianista ruso hace con el instrumento lo que quiere: su dominio es absoluto, y es admirable, por ejemplo, el control de las dinámicas en los distintos planos sonoros, todo un lujo . . . Pletnev ofrece un nocturno de Chopin, donde demuestra que puede expresar como pocos . . . las esencias del piano romántico.

... en la Tonhalle de Zúrich y el ambiente recogido y mágico que creó su interpretación de este personalísimo y muy romántico Tchaikovsky queda de manifiesto en el disco.
TCHAIKOVSKY: 18 PIECES OP. 72


"I'd call it a musical diary" - A conversation with Mikhail Pletnev

Everyone plays Tchaikovsky's B flat minor Piano Concerto, and a few play the great G major Sonata or his cycle The Seasons. Only a handful of pianists tackle the Russian composer's entire, and by no means small, piano œuvre - among them Mikhail Pletnev. "I love Tchaikovsky. I love everything by him. When you love something, whether it's music or a woman, then you love everything ... Tchaikovsky is always Tchaikovsky. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't play this music any more."

Opus 72 consists of 18 miniatures, which all have titles (French or, less frequently, Italian). "Naturally the descriptive names all stem from the composer himself", Pletnev explains. "They're part and parcel of Romantic music. Think of Schumann - Schumann was the most important model for Tchaikovsky's piano music." The ninth piece is actually called "Un poco di Schumann" and can be understood as a deep bow to the German composer. Hermann Laroche, one of Tchaikovsky's closest friends and a fellow student at the conservatories of St. Petersburg and Moscow, reports that they often played Schumann's piano works, including four-hand reductions of his symphonies and his opera Genoveva. There's another "dedication" in this set of pieces by Tchaikovsky: No.15, a mazurka subtitled "Un poco di Chopin". But here Pletnev finds only superficial connections between the composers. And so it may only have been a momentary whim that led the pianist to offer a Chopin encore following this performance of Tchaikovsky's cycle, recorded live in Zurich's Tonhalle.

Opus 72 gathers together a wealth of brief impressions, each barely five minutes long. It even finds room for the fragment of another, never-completed work. The "Scherzo-fantaisie", No. 10, originally was part of the draft of a symphony in E flat, whose opening section then mutated into the single-movement Third Piano Concerto. Pletnev has no problem with the aphoristic quality of the whole cycle. "These pieces are beautiful music. You're confronted with the same problem when you play the Chopin Preludes: seeking and finding unity in the diversity."

The 18 Pieces for piano op. 72 are among Tchaikovsky's final works and his very last composition for solo piano. "All of Tchaikovsky is here", declares Pletnev with wholehearted conviction. "Not only folk and ballet influences are reflected in it, as often maintained, but a great deal more. I would call this a diary, a musical diary - filled with ideas and associations, then turning to thoughts about friends or to simple melodies that might occur to one while out walking." The dozen and a half pieces all date from 1893, the year of Tchaikovsky's death. Is it a last work, perhaps even a musical farewell? Pletnev doesn't think so: "One hardly senses that, or at most only peripherally. It isn't music of mourning. The saddest piece is 'Chant élégiaque', and that's in the major. Every great composer deals with dying, with death, and by no means only as an old man!"

Tchaikovsky himself seems not to have held a particularly high opinion of his Opus72. "These pieces are unripe and unimportant", he wrote during their composition to his nephew Bobik; "I'm producing them for money". A few days later he sounded more reconciled to the project: "I'm continuing to turn out these musical pancakes. Funny thing: the more I do it, the more I enjoy it, and the easier I find the work." Pletnev would defend Tchaikovsky against his, the composer's, own scepticism. In particular, he refuses to accept the charge that certain sections (especially in "Tendres reproches", "Méditation" and "Echo rustique") are salonlike, a mixture of intimacy and sentimentality. "All piano music not intended for the large concert hall belongs in the salon. I don't see anything pejorative in that. Schubert and Chopin wrote exclusively for the salon."

The great Russian pianist Nikolai Rubinstein, for whom the B flat minor Concerto was originally intended, rejected that work, calling it unplayable and worthless. "Rubinstein was basically right and yet he missed the mark. Tchaikovsky himself admitted to having stolen this and that, here and there. But let's not forget: all classical works make us think of other music - it's the task of the genius to put it in a new, higher context. Even Mozart stole from a Clementi sonata in the Magic Flute. The Magic Flute is still performed, however, while Clementi is forgotten. I think it was Molière who said: 'I take what's mine wherever I find it.'" The 18 Pieces for piano do, in fact, also awaken memories, not only of Schumann and Chopin, but also of such other Tchaikovsky favourites as Mozart, Schubert and Liszt.

And how does Pletnev cope with unplayability? In Opus 72 there are lurking among easier passages a couple of awkward ones (most strikingly in the seventh piece, "Polacca de concert", as well as in the concluding "Invitation au trépak", an Ukrainian stamping dance) which demand of the performer a significant degree of virtuosity. Pletnev can only smile at this. "The craft of playing the piano has developed rapidly in the last decades. What used to be considered barely playable can now be mastered by a beginner. I'll tell you this: Tchaikovsky is easy - Hummel is really hard, incomparably harder." The pianist himself is sad if something technical goes amiss: "In that respect I'm like Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who suffered physically from a wrong note. Or like the tennis star Roger Federer, who gets hopping mad over a fault. That kind of thing can be a burden. What's crucial, by the way, isn't what happens in the fingers, but in the head."
Mikhail Pletnev, are you a perfectionist? "Sometimes. I'm very moody. Today I'm a perfectionist; tomorrow I'm an anarchist. My interpretative freedom is boundless. I will not play what's in the notes. I will play what's behind the notes, between the notes. You have to be true to the spirit of a work, not merely to the letter. Analysis is always linked with emotion. You can't separate them."

Mario Gerteis
1/2005

Mikhail Pletnev: Chronology

The pianist, conductor, and composer Mikhail Pletnev is an ”all-round” musician who defies categorization. He was born in Archangel, Russia, in 1957. His parents were both musicians, and Pletnev displayed exceptional musical talent from an early age. When he was 13, he began to study the piano at the Moscow Conservatory with the famous pianists and teachers Jacob Flier and Lev Vlasenko. In 1978, Pletnev won the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow and, as a result, was able to make concert tours outside the former Soviet Union throughout Europe, Japan, the USA, and Israel. Over the years he has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors.



1/2005

1980 While still pursuing his career as an international concert pianist, Pletnev makes his debut as a conductor in the former Soviet Union.
1988 Invited by President Mikhail Gorbachev to perform at the superpower summit in Washington.
1989 The collapse of the Soviet system gives Pletnev the historic opportunity to realize his long-held dream of forming an independent orchestra. He founds the Russian National Orchestra, which, under his leadership, soon achieves international recognition. In the coming years he also appears as guest conductor abroad with such major organizations as the Philharmonia, London Symphony Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
1990 The RNO under Pletnev becomes the first Russian orchestra to perform at the Vatican, in a private concert for Pope John Paul II. Shortly afterwards it becomes the first Russian orchestra to tour Israel. Since then the ensemble has appeared in the United States, Asia, and Europe, as well as at international music festivals from Lucerne to Edinburgh.
1993 Signs exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
1994 First DG releases: Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony and The Rock; Tchaikovsky’s Manfred and The Tempest.
1995 Honoured by President Yeltsin with Russia’s First State Prize for his services to music.
1996 RNO and Pletnev tour the Far East in May and June and afterwards perform at the inaugural concert of the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
1997 Takes part in the New Year’s Eve concert in Berlin with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Claudio Abbado. Chopin disc issued, Pletnev’s first solo recital on DG – hailed as ”Record of the Year” by the influential German critic and piano expert Joachim Kaiser.
1998 Pletnev is also an active composer. The highly successful world premiere of his Viola Concerto takes place in Moscow, with Yuri Bashmet as soloist and the RNO under Pletnev’s baton.
1999 Appointed Conductor Laureate of the Russian National Orchestra, and in this position continues his collaboration with the RNO as conductor and pianist. Receives rave reviews for his Beethoven and Rachmaninov performances under Slatkin and Ashkenazy in London.
2000 Carnegie Hall Recital debut is recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon and released the following year, when it wins the Echo Award. Performs with Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker at the Europa Konzert 2000, televised and broadcast worldwide from the Philharmonie. Acclaimed for performances of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody with the National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin in Washington DC and on tour throughout Europe. Invited to perform as soloist under Long Yu in Beijing in December at the inaugural concert of the newly established China Philharmonic Orchestra.
2001 Appears as soloist with Kent Nagano and the UBS Verbier Festival Youth Orchestra and with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic on tour in Moscow. His interpretations of Beethoven’s complete Piano Concertos with Christoph von Dohnányi and the Philharmonia Orchestra are acclaimed in London in November.
2002 Honoured by President Putin with Russia’s First State Prize for his services to music. Pletnev’s latest solo recital recording with sonatas by C. P. E. Bach receives the Edison Award and Penguin Rosette Award. World premiere with Martha Argerich of Mikhail Pletnev’s own transcription for two pianos of the suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella at the ”Lugano Festival Martha Argerich Project”. Recording of Rachmaninov’s and Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concertos in Moscow with the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich.
2003 Appointed Artistic Director of the Russian National Orchestra. Far East recital tour and performances of the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in June. Festival solo appearances this summer include Orange, Verbier, Edinburgh, La Roque d’Anthéron, Ruhr, and Rheingau. In November and December: performances of Rachmaninov concertos in England (with the Philharmonia) and Stockholm (with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra). Deutsche Grammophon recordings this year include the Piano Quintet and Piano Trio of Sergei Taneyev (with Vadim Repin, Ilya Gringolts, Nobuko Imai, and Lynn Harrell). It will be released in 2005.
2004 Solo recitals in Stuttgart, Vienna, New York, Genoa, Turin, Amsterdam, London, Milan, Baden-Baden, Zurich, and Brussels; concerts in Stockhom conducting the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra; tours of Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, and Taiwan conducting the Russian National Orchestra; and concert appearances in Rome (with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra under Chung), and on tour in the US with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Herbert Blomstedt. Released on Deutsche Grammophon this year: a Schumann solo piano programme plus a historic collaboration with Martha Argerich playing Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye and Pletnev’s two-piano transcription of Prokofiev’s Cinderella suite (Diapason d’Or, Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik).
2005 Engagements conducting the Tokyo Philharmonic (including his own Viola Concerto) and Philharmonia orchestras; concert tours of Spain, Belgium, Italy, the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland with the Russian National Orchestra; solo recitals including Freiburg, Frankfurt, Basle, Zurich, Bologna, Rome, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo. Deutsche Grammophon releases this year feature Pletnev as solo pianist in Tchaikovsky’s ”18 Pieces” op. 72.