PROKOFIEV Vision Fugitives, Op. 22 Nos. 1, 3, 8-11, 14-15, 18-20
MEDTNER Sonate-Ballade, Op. 27
GRECHANINOV Prelude Op. 78 No. 1
Lullaby Op. 78 No. 2
Waltz Op. 61 No. 5
Reproche Op. 61 No. 6
Caprice Op. 61 No. 2
RACHMANINOV ‘Nïne otpuschayeshi’ from All-Night Vigil, Op. 37 (arr. Rachmaninov)
Etude-Tableux, Op. 39 No. 7
STRAVINSKY Three movements from Petrouchka (arr. Stravinsky)
Alexander Karpeyev, piano
Savile Club, London, 22 June 2017
2017 is of course the 100 year anniversary of the Russian Revolution. A seismic event in so many ways, Russian music was forever changed also.
Russian pianist Alexander Karpeyev here gave a fascinating and satisfying programme built around works from around 1917 by Russian emigres. All left Russia before or straight after the revolution, and had greatly varying relationships with their homeland afterwards.
Some like Rachmaninov never returned. Others like Prokofiev and Medtner did, not that they got along once back in their homeland. "His playing was good, if a bit boring", the prickly Prokofiev wrote in his diary after a Medtner recital.
No such problems on this night. Karpeyev has a burgeoning reputation as an interpreter of the period and at a sweltering Savile Club it was not hard to hear why. Karpeyev's magnificent technique combined with a powerful artistic vision of each piece. Medtner's Sonate-Ballade benefited greatly from this kind of advocacy and reached an engulfing conclusion. Karpeyev, amongst other things, is the Artistic Director of the International Medtner Festival.
Rachmaninov, and - a composer new to me - Grechaninov were broadly aligned in their lush late-romantic sound worlds. Karpeyev strongly characterised each miniature. A particularly magical moment was a rarely heard piano arrangement of Nyne otpuschayeshi from Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil. In the original the conclusion requires "octavists", especially low bases customarily found in Russian choirs who sing one octave lower than the normal bass voice. The piano also concluded deep in its lower registers.
After the pealing bells of Rachmaninov's Opus 39/7 Etude-Tableux, we were left with that most thrilling of 20th century piano showpieces - the Three Movements from Petrouchka. Stravinsky never thought much of the piano, considering it essentially a percussion instrument. But what an exercise in rhythm it is, with a stupefying set of technical hurdles for the performer to jump. Karpeyev's performance was technically spectacular but also brought out its musicality, with transitions particularly beautifully handled. It was an overwhelming musical experience and brought the audience most deservedly to their feet.