Samoyloff/Strelchenko, Wigmore Hall, London
Thursday 08 January 2009
In juxtaposing two recitals by thirtysomething Russians, the Wigmore Hall has reminded us that the golden age of Soviet pianism is not dead: Evgeny Samoyloff cut his teeth in the Special Music School of Novosibirsk, while Natalia Strelchenko fledged in the St Petersburg conservatory, and both employ a brilliant technique to pursue keyboard poetry.
But Evgeny Samoyloff took some time to convince us of this. He began with a reading of Mozart's great Fantasy in C minor which showed no feel for 18th-century decorum. But with Beethoven's Opus 33 Bagatelles he was in his element. Each piece emerged with its individual character writ large, as though Samoyloff was possessed by Beethoven.
Scriabin's "Third Sonata" is a daunting thicket of musical ideas, but Samoyloff turned it into a walk in the park, while his delivery of Pletnev's arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker was magical.
When Natalia Strelchenko skips on like a carnival Pierrette, fun is clearly on the agenda, but she opened with the grave seriousness of Ravel's "Tombeau de Couperin". This irresistibly theatrical performer presented the hieratic mysteries of Ravel's First World War memorial with tender warmth, before launching into an iridescently-shimmering "Ondine".
She then played a wonderfully weird virtuoso fantasia by Sigismond Thalberg on the theme of "God Save the Queen". After creating splendour with its fireworks, she zapped us with a towering performance of Liszt's "Dante Sonata". Would there be an encore? This game little trouper gave us three, and the more she played, the less we wanted her to go, because the whiff of the circus was steadily growing.
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