Nikolai Demidenko’s all-Chopin recital was a hugely anticipated event but the performance this particular evening was disappointing, and not only because the expectations were so high. Beginning with a group of alternating waltzes and mazurkas, Demidenko made a solid start with the Op 42 Waltz in A-Flat but the whole evening felt particularly cagey within a few minutes. Overall, the opening group of miniatures lacked charm in the delivery of their material, and pianistically speaking, a lack of colour and singing line.
Closing out the first half was a similarly cagey performance of the Piano Sonata No 2. This is a challenging work, both in the management of its structure, the detailed delivery of its beautiful and surface nuances (the ornamentations, the singing melodies of the first and second movements and the central aria of the third), and then the grand nature of the virtuosity both in the sweeping finale, the surges of sound in the first and second, and then the sustained sostenuto quality of the Funeral March. These challenges were never quite surmounted in Demidenko’s performance this evening. Nonetheless, he managed to reveal some interesting inner chromatics in the first movement and the subdued atmosphere of the finale was a dramatic stroke of genius, but one was left wondering the reason behind the very subdued ending as a dramatic musical response to what had been setup earlier.
And the mysteries continued in the second half with a perplexing conclusion to the Berceuse which lead into yet another cagey procession through the four Scherzos. Here, the best playing occurred in the development section of the second Scherzo where Demidenko seemed most clear and articulate with both his playing and his delivery of musical argument. At times in the third Scherzo, Demidenko was devilishly dramatic but the pianism was disappointing in the two chorale sections as there was a distinct lack of line in the playing yet again. The fourth Scherzo went according to the form of the evening and while it had its moments, the decorative runs often overshadowed the inner melodic treasures of this most refined and beautiful masterpiece.
These Scherzos, especially the fourth, are tricky, musically challenging works that require a master performer to be in top form. And everybody is human sometimes. Demidenko recovered much of his charm in a group of Chopin encores where finally, he breathed life into the melodies and communicated more clearly the dramatic and amorous qualities of the music. If only we didn’t have to wait more than two hours for the encores!
Hoang Pham reviewed Nikolai Demidenko’s performance at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, MRC, on June 10 2015
The picture is by K. Miura