The power and the glory

Dmitri Alexeev | Wigmore Hall, London
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The Independent Culture

Dmitri Alexeev's performance is honed to details that other pianists leave to chance. He stands, inscrutable, at the end, so that you're not sure what he is going to do until he suddenly slides on to the stool while deftly unbuttoning his jacket, and launches an encore. We got four on Sunday evening, all richly deserved. His programme was colossal, with Schumann's "Arabeske" followed by his F sharp minor Sonata, then 12 of Shostakovich's early Preludes, two by Rachmaninov, and his Second Sonata.

Dmitri Alexeev's performance is honed to details that other pianists leave to chance. He stands, inscrutable, at the end, so that you're not sure what he is going to do until he suddenly slides on to the stool while deftly unbuttoning his jacket, and launches an encore. We got four on Sunday evening, all richly deserved. His programme was colossal, with Schumann's "Arabeske" followed by his F sharp minor Sonata, then 12 of Shostakovich's early Preludes, two by Rachmaninov, and his Second Sonata.

In some ways Alexeev is rather a dry player - the opening of the "Arabeske" hardly melted your heart. And yet its second section was much more expressive, and he produced a very special tone quality in the wonderful coda, like a muffled bell.

His solutions to the many interpretative problems in Schumann's F sharp minor were masterly, too, though while his conception of the colossal first movement was appropriately grand, he took some extravagant rhythmic licence. What I missed was sheer visceral excitement and brilliance, though the tense hush he cast over the Scherzo was an effective alternative. He held his listeners' attention, too, through the precisely timed pauses between movements, and his selection from Shostakovich's 24 Preludes was shrewdly planned for effective contrasts of key and mood.

I have recently listened to the reissue of Horowitz's last recording of Rachmaninov's Second Sonata, and I can honestly say that except for that unique sound with which Horowitz penetrated one's very guts, Alexeev was equal, if not superior, to Horowitz in every other respect.

Comparisons may be odious, and Horowitz was in his late seventies at the time, but Alexeev was more concentrated, coherent, and so powerful at the end of the third movement that the most sceptical listener to this slightly preposterous piece must have felt happy to surrender.

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