Chamber: Sunday, June 2, 7:30 p.m.
Alexey Chernov joined the Brentano Quartet for the Dvořák Piano Quintet for a contradictory and puzzling performance. Right from the opening few measures of preparation for the gorgeous cello solo, he was way too loud and it did not bode well for the performance. Sadly, it proved to be the case. Chernov appeared to be under the mistaken impression that this was a piano concerto, with a smallish orchestra, and that every note of his was of paramount importance. The poor members of the Brentano Quartet had to overplay just to hear themselves.
To boot, tempi were as exaggerated as the dynamics. Chernov would set an already fast tempo and then rush on that. There were times when the quartet could barely keep up.
This is how it went for the entire performance.
Recital: Tuesday, June 4, 7:30 p.m.
Alexey Chernov finally played the Theofanidis’ Birichino with some personality, if not with the humor, nor the mischief, the composer intended. Actually, he loosened up in the second half of the piece. On the other hand, this was the most intelligent and shaped reading, revealing much about the structure of the piece that had not been apparent.
Bartók’s Étude, op. 18, no. 3, is a severe piece: unrelentingly dissonant and bewilderingly complex. Chernov gave it an in-your-face performance that created an unsettled feeling, not musically, but physically as though you went through some strange and unexplainable life experience that you occasionally relive.
Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, op. 53, was a revelation. This was a piece that I learned for writing about this competition and so had no idea how it would play in a live performance. In study, it seemed overly sectional and moody: some tempo changes last a few measures. In reality, this is a marvelous piece that is sectional in a way, but every turn is of surprises rather than dead ends. Jazz influences abounded in both rhythm and in the complexity of the chords. Perhaps this was because of Chernov’s revelatory performance. Some of his tempo choices were not what you would have expected, a molto rallentando gave new meaning to the word molto, but it all worked and leaves you hoping to hear it again.
Purcell’s Suite in C Major, Z. 666 was a palette cleanser but didn’t reveal anything new about the pianist.
His performance of Schumann’s Symphonic Études, op. 13, on the other hand, did. He was able to offer a long legato and a long build up to a high point. He also knows how to use a staccato touch in both a soft and loud environment. Schumann’s style demands clarity, but he writes thick textures. Chernov was able to clarify these with excellent voicing.
On the questionable side, sometimes when at the extreme top of the instrument, his playing sounded brittle (but this may have been the fault of the instrument). Some loud notes were out of scale. Occasionally, he let the accompaniment figures get too loud under a melody and he used the same dynamic level for both hands when they should have been different. These few complaints shouldn’t create a negative impression because overall, this was an impressive performance.
◊ Our profile of Alexey Chernov, 30, Russia
◊ You can see quick links to the reviews of the other semifinalists here