In this Carnegie Hall recital Denis Matsuev displayed prodigious technique, tremendous power and colossal sound. At slow tempos he can produce an agreeably delicate musical flow, but he relishes playing at breakneck speeds. His tendency to rush, though at times electrifying, blurred his passagework in the quickly dispatched Beethoven, in which he barely paused between movements. There was some very beautiful playing in the rapt Adagio, but his devilishly fast tempos in the other three movements failed to convey any meaning.
Rachmaninov’s Corelli Variations is based on ‘La folia’, which was not created by Arcangelo Corelli but used by him in a Violin Sonata. Among the Variations were the forcefully thumped Fifth, the nervously energetic Tenth, and the slower iterations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth, as well as the pleasantly rhapsodic ‘Intermezzo’. Matsuev’s rendering of Chopin’s F-minor Ballade came off as more showy than thoughtful. While it exhibited color and urgency of purpose, it was noticeably deficient in subtlety. He stretched out the gorgeous opening theme to the point of exaggeration, and marred the narrative sense of the whole with some overly generous rubato and by crashing through many of the runs.
In Tchaikovsky’s brief but emotionally charged ‘Méditation’, Matsuev was more successful, taking his time and allowing the music to breathe and come alive on its own terms before reveling in its emotions, and then fading out on a sparkling trill. His pyrotechnic virtuosity was at its most obvious in Prokofiev’s imposing Seventh Sonata. The playing was undeniably dazzling as he effectively captured the music’s turbulence and mercurial mood changes, from troubled restlessness to gentle yearning, but he rushed his fences in a brutally harsh and loud account of the Finale.
There were five encores – a wistful rendition of ‘Träumerei’ from Schumann’s Kinderszenen was followed by a tender account of Schubert’s G-flat Impromptu (D899/3). Matsuev then gave a sprightly reading of Sibelius’s A-minor Etude (from Opus 76) and brought passionate turbulence to Scriabin’s Etude in D-sharp minor (from Opus 8). Most memorable and startling was the last: Grigory Ginzburg’s flamboyant transcription of ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Grieg’s music for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. Starting softly at the bass of the keyboard, Matsuev steadily pumped up the volume until he zoomed to the top for an extravagant, finger-busting ending.