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Nikolai Demidenko plays Chopin,
enjoyed by BILL NEWMAN


On various occasions I find it edifying to hearken back to the 1950s and 60s when the BBC Third Programme introduced their series entitled Studies in Interpretation during which famous personalities -- performers, critics, and so on -- discussed the merits and defects of recorded performances by an assortment of mainly international artists of repute. Victor Sackville-West, of the illustrious family, was also an author of books, occasionally read today, and a professed musical authority. He could be as scathing in his opinions of some big names, like Artur Rubinstein, as he would worship at the shrine of others, such as Dinu Lipatti. It was Lipatti, indeed, who was judged to provide the near perfect performance of Chopin's Barcarolle, while the beloved Rubinstein was described as no-caring and sloppy in his approach ('as can be expected' according to VS-W).

While Studies in Interpretation carried on at various intervals into the beginnings of BBC Radio 3 with other contributors in sole control, I found it easier then to formulate my own opinions instead of having to listen today to gatherings of 'experts' telling us what to go for and those to avoid. Many performing musicians immediately land recording contracts. Rightly, what appeals to the heart ultimately becomes collectable. CDs and DVDs also cater for the live music enthusiast intent on an A-Z progress chart on choice and preparation of the overall programme, rehearsals, audience and critical responses, the concert/recital, forward planning ...

The Chopin recording for Hyperion by a favourite pupil of Dmitri Bashkirov -- Nikolai Demidenko -- won the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik: Bestenliste 2007. At its inception, it was raved about during the actual sessions by producer, engineers, critics and all others present for the intense industry, concentration, and the original freshness of interpretation by Demidenko, who since then has amassed a repertoire listing of composers like Bach, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Mussorgsky, Clementi and Scarlatti. More recently Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and Hammerklavier Sonata have won him plaudits for his recordings on ASV Gold. He became one of four chosen pianists to play Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues (The Well-Tempered Klavier) -- shown on BBC2 and now issued on a EuroArts DVD. Chamber Music tie-ups and appearances, especially fellow Russian events with Leonid Gorokhov and Dmitri Alexeev, feature a galaxy of performers. Festival appearances include Paris, Warsaw, Aldeburgh, Cambridge, Dubrovnik, Eilat, New York, Oslo and Petworth.

And so to Demidenko's Wigmore Hall recital in London (23 April 2008). Chopin's Barcarolle, after a persuasively gentle start, gained in strength and stature towards the halfway stage, coming into its own during the final measures of this highly evocative, intimate piece, with a coda of expressive power. The Sonata in B minor I felt was slightly disorientated in form and content up to the first movement repeat, but thereafter most persuasive. It perhaps lacked the grand manner of the great Louis Kentner, who I heard locally at his peak during the early 1950s, but styles have changed. The second movement was superb, and I loved the muted singing style of the third, slightly held back as the melody rises, which prepares us for the monumental Finale. The regular pulse and clarity of the playing was quite admirable, and the final apotheosis was never exaggerated (as with many pianists) or speeded up unnecessarily at the coda.

If I was asked to write a line by line description of the celebrated 24 Preludes, it would cover many pages. Demidenko's performance as a whole was quite stunning; quite the best I have heard since Pouishnoff, Cherkassky, Lympany and Darre. But enormous care for detail was evident in each number: chosen arm and finger pressure, tempi, phrasing and expression -- together with correct rubatos where applicable (as in 4: Largo espressivo, 7: Andantino, 8: Molto agitato, 11: Agitato, with its playful Vivace, 13: Lento, 15: the celebrated Raindrop with the sustained singing line, beautifully controlled, 17: Allegretto, with its 'tolling bell' acutely emphasized -- from 20 through to the close the tension was riveting). The more dramatic numbers -- 12: Presto, 14: Allegro-pesante, 16: Presto con fuoco, 18: Allegro molto, and 24: Allegro appassionato, each had their own brand of unique perception and excitement. I was mightily impressed.

Copyright © 30 July 2008 Bill Newman, Edgware UK


The Russian-born pianist Nikolai Demidenko studied with Anna Kantor at the Gnessin School and with Dmitri Bashkirov at the Moscow Conservatoire. He was a prizewinner in the 1976 Montreal and 1978 Tchaikovsky competitions. Known for his performances of the Russian concerto repertoire, such as Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, he performs regularly with Yuri Temirkanov and the St Petersburg Philharmonic, and has recorded for Hyperion and AGPL.

Demidenko's Wigmore Hall concert was promoted by the Chopin Society, whose future recitals include Hamish Milne (31 August), Marco Fatichenti (21 September) and Piers Lane (28 September 2008), all 3.30pm at St Gabriel's, Warwick Square, London UK.

Read Bill Newman's reviews of recent concerts at London's Wigmore Hall: Alex Kobrin, Lisa Batiashvili and friends, Mayuko Katsumura with Gordon Back and Eduardo Monteiro.


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