Classical: Scherzospotting: Chopin for anoraks

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The Independent Culture
KEVIN KENNER

WIGMORE HALL

LONDON

NIKOLAI DEMIDENKO

WIGMORE HALL

LONDON

THE MANIA for performing "cycles" of works never intended to be heard together, or performing all a composer wrote for one medium, cannot entirely be blamed on the recording industry - it predated it. We ought, really, to have outgrown it by now. It thrives on a trainspotting instinct among music-loving anoraks.

Sunday afternoon gave them a chance to tick off Chopin's four Scherzos in Kevin Kenner's piano recital. At least he played them out of their published sequence, so that the first two pieces, whose repeated sections seem the most otiose, were separated.

Kenner is not the flashiest keyboard athlete, and sometimes he was too reluctant to go for attacks in the treble. It's probably more a matter of temperament than technical ability, for his octaves in the third Scherzo were very fast and secure. What he did do for these pieces, which so often decline into hurdle races punctuated by accidents, was give them a sense of cohesion.

That, too, was the great virtue of his performance of Chopin's Funeral March Sonata. Very few pianists have the courage, or intelligence, to maintain such tension in the first movement, or top it with such a fast, tight Scherzo. The Funeral March itself was really serious, not strutting, and the melodic relief of its middle section was suspended at a mesmerising mezza voce. The most wonderful movement of all, the scurrying perpetual motion of the last, brimmed with half-revealed secrets.

Chopin's 24 Preludes form a cycle which he did intend to be played as such. In his recital promoted by the Wigmore Hall and Radio 3, Nikolai Demidenko played them with great naturalness, even if he sometimes betrayed a sense of strain - he had one of those cribs inside the piano which some pianists find reassuring but must be impossible to read from.

Demidenko had brought in a vintage Steinway of the 1890s, and it sounded much leaner-toned than a modern instrument. Demidenko was kind to it, yet although the climax of the final Prelude was a long way short of triple- forte by today's standards, it seemed grand enough in context.

But the piano - and Demidenko - came into their own in three of Rachmaninov's second set of Etudes-tableaux, Op 39. Here Demidenko's lissome action and stylish bravura combined with the instrument's mellow clangour to evoke a brilliant vision of a vanished era.

Nikolai Demidenko's recital is repeated on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday at 1pm

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