Konstantin Scherbakov

Wallace Collection, London

Tucked away behind Selfridges, the Wallace Collection is a quiet retreat, full of the accumulated treasures of the Marquesses of Hertford, bequeathed to the nation 100 years ago. The dignified 19th century building escaped the tacky modernisation programmes which messed up larger London galleries in the 1960s - only to be reversed - but recently the Wallace has started a discreet process of refurbishment, and already the magnificent early 18th century staircase, originally imported from the Banque Royale in Paris, has been restored. There are plans to make a simple cafe in the courtyard and open up the basement for educational facilities and conservation.

Right on cue, a new series of six Sunday morning recitals in the Long Picture Gallery was launched at the weekend by the Siberian-born pianist , who now lives in Switzerland. The concerts are designed to introduce established musicians who have not yet performed in London. So much for London having a comprehensive claim on tyros, for Scherbakov won the first Rachmaninov Competition in Moscow back in 1983, and he's already made a fair number of CDs. On Sunday he played Rachmaninov's five Fantasy Pieces, Op 3, with a dazzling range of colour and technical finesse. He also showed a sophisticated sense of proportion, so that, far from puffing up the famous C sharp minor Prelude, the second piece in the set, he gave it a sense of rhythmic freedom as well as tonal depth. Some people may like the aural perspective of a very big hall, but here, with the chairs arranged lengthways and the piano midway along the gallery, in front of Rubens's Rainbow Landscape, the immediacy of the sound made you feel that everything the instrument was capable of was revealed as clearly as it could be. Appropriately, Poussin's Dance to the Music of Time was just a few feet away.

Scherbakov is a poised and dignified performer, though admittedly, the paintings tempted you away from looking at him. No character of EM Forster would have needed to invent stories explaining the music. In any case, though Scherbakov has a great sense of Romantic panache, he didn't over-dramatise Chopin's F minor Fantasy - he played it with a natural sense of flow and formal balance.

Next came two of Liszt's transcriptions of Wagner: Isolde's Liebestod, more flexibly phrased than most conductors would risk and the "Spinning Chorus" from The Flying Dutchman.

There seems little doubt, to judge from Scherbakov's discography, that Lisztian, or post-Lisztian virtuosity is what particularly attracts him. Yet apart from a tendency to push florid passages furiously hard, there was nothing excessively flashy in the way he played Liszt's Polonaise No 2 in E - after all, the music is the very essence of flamboyance.

As an encore, Scherbakov tossed off one of the Strauss waltz transcriptions on his latest disc, and it sounded a lot better in the clear and honest acoustic of the Wallace's Long Gallery.

Further concerts: 9, 16, 23 & 30 November at 11.45am. Tickets: The Wallace Collection Shop(0171-935 0687 ext 22)

Adrian Jack

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