Mikhail Pletnev in Verbier – fake,fool or genius

Mikhail Pletnev in Verbier ……..fake ,fool or genius? https://www.medici.tv/en/concerts/mikhail-pletnev-recital/

Having listened to his cat and mouse game with Nosseda in Beethoven 3rd concerto with a marvellous young orchestra enjoying the chase as much as the wonderful Nosseda .It was in the same vein as when I heard him play op 110 and op111 in that hallowed temple of great musicians in Florence.

Cat and mouse Beethoven

I listened very carefully to his first Chopin recital where the Fantasie,Barcarolle and Polonaise Fantasie seem to be a collection of unrelated episodes in which he was obviously enjoying himself teasing a kaleidoscope of beautiful seemingly unrelated sounds like a magician pulling endless baubles out of a top hat.
It was the same programme that had been streamed during the pandemic from Bari.

How can he have such a following and be invited to such an illustrious venue as Verbier?
There is a very fine line between sanity and insanity as there is with the heart between life and death ….a very thin wire that can break at any moment as those that dare climb the high wire can fall off with sometimes catastrofic results as I witnessed recently in London:

Danil Trifonov with mentor Sergei Babayan

It made me wonder:’is a true interpreter he who takes the markings left by the composer as the starting point of an interpretation or is it valid to take just the notes and bring the meaning behind them to life as decided by an informed or uniformed entertainer?That can lead to a very personal or subjective approach.
Well I think both should be valid as is obvious from the score that a deaf composer could leave us with his trilogy of dreams so clearly annotated onto a dumb page.
Agosti,Perahia and Serkin have shown us that this is the true path of an interpreter and not just an entertainer or ‘giocaliere delle note’ as the headline of a Cherkassky recital of all transcriptions was reported in the Corriere della Sera many years ago.
Since that moment Shura,who was a very serious artist,would not allow anyone to choose his programmes or even suggest what encores he should play.
I used to stand in the wings and he would announce to me as he returned to the stage the pieces he would play knowing full well that we were all waiting for the Godowsky Tango or Boogie Woogie etude.
There are interpreters who are intellectual and do their research and delve deeply into the archive to find a dot or a dash in più that could give a clue to the composers initial inspirational spark.They are not necessarily those that can convince as true performing artists are made of many different parts as Liszt has more than amply shown us.

Magic moments!!Babayan in conversation with Kissin

There are those who are not quite so academic and follow their instinct as Rubinstein explained to the pianists in his first competition.
A pianist must be like the bees and listen to as much music as possible and acquire his own sense of taste of good and bad and create as the bees do their own unique honey.
Of course this implies a technical mastery such as many have from an early age in the East where they may not have the intellectual capacity or access to the tradition of the great interpreters or original manuscripts as in the West.
Pogorelich had a sense of colour and technical mastery that was unique but when DGG sent a demo recording of his Ravel to Perlemuter for some phrase that could be used for promotional purposes ,Vlado in all innocence replied ‘quesque c’est que ca’.

Curzon declared that to be a great pianist was 90% work and 10% talent – Curzon was blessed by the Gods indeed …………as was the complex undefinable Mikhail Pletnev who appeared before us in Verbier.
The same Pletnev that Sandor had implored not to abandon such a God given gift for conducting !

Pletnev played the Chopin Preludes in his final recital and for me it was simply the reincarnation of the magic that Cortot had immortalised on 78 rpm discs.
A performance of such freedom and sense of colour such an overall vision that was indeed what we might very well call recreation.
He may not see the wood from the trees any more but by God the word genius is as near as one can get to describing sounds that do not fit into any vocabulary but touch you very deeply,in fact much more than any words ever could.Curzon on the jury of the Leeds competition in the late 60’s had not been convinced of the genius of Radu Lupu and did not vote him into the finals.Luckily he was outvoted and was the first to say after his performance of Beethovens 3rd Concerto:’Thank God I lived to hear that!’

Pletnev’s encore of Scriabin’s op 2 n.1 Study underlined this genius with a work so often churned out by lesser hands but today was shaped where whispered secrets went hand in hand with aristocratic grandeur.
To see him shuffle on and off must have been how the nearly blind Cortot must have appeared when the poet speaks directly through such a medium.
As Trifonov demonstrated in Verbier too genius can be a hard burden to bear in everyday life .

Here is one reply to this very delicate but fundamental question on the very meaning of interpreter as opposed to an entertainer :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT7PYlm55r8………

Lang Lang was a great pianist from the studio of Gary Graffman but now is more the entertainer who was inspired as a child by Tom and Gerry ………he would have loved Pletnev’s Beethoven 3………But thanks to Lang Lang China sells more pianos than anywhere in the world and the Trust Funds that he has been able to set up help innumerable young musicians world wide ………..His piano mummy was after all Dame Fanny Waterman one of the most remarkable people I have ever met ……..’you are so eloquent’ she would say to me on the phone as we listened to the same concerts on the BBC in different countries and would compare notes together………….’Graham Johnson we agreed together was the greatest accompanist alive ………..on that a meeting was arranged between Dame Fanny and Graham who had shared chamber music lessons with me in John Streets class when we were both ‘kids’ at the RAM .Small world! There are still enough fingers on our hands to count the great musicians of our day …………dedication and sacrifice are for the chosen few.

All you need is love’ as the song goes but some pianists sound as though that love has run its course whereas real love grows more profound with every day !

Karl Ulrich Schnabel once praised a student at the Piano Academy in Como : ‘Oh so you are a composer ………but with Beethoven’s notes!’

Another pianist also now in career was not accepted into the class :’You think more of yourself than the music!’

Charles Rosen,one of the great minds of our day, was much more to the point :’You play like a whore!’

Just to put things in perspective Morecambe and Wise with Andre Previn – Grieg Piano Concerto :https://youtu.be/V7Nmeq3ggss


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