Konstantin Soukhovetski at Phillips Collection

February 6, 2012

What would happen if you took the music of three rather different composers and played it all like Rachmaninoff? This was apparently the goal of a recital by Konstantin Soukhovetski, heard Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection. The Russian pianist, in his 30s and fresh out of Juilliard, played with flair and plenty of rubato, but his performance lacked interpretative seasoning.

Soukhovetski also studied acting and has performed in a couple of short films. The sense of the melodramatic was palpable, as Soukhovetski introduced the piano version of Philip Glass’s score for “The Hours” by quoting from the suicide note left by Virginia Woolf in the film. He gave this music, characterized by its sometimes monotonous repetition, considerable expressive shape, accelerating the tempo to enhance the effect of the fast passages and hammering the fortissimo chords mercilessly.

The effect was quite the same in Soukhovetski’s transcription of the Countess’s final monologue from Richard Strauss’s “Capriccio,” here given its world premiere. The melodic lushness and chromatic vagaries of the score were clouded by Lisztian decorative flourishes and hand crossings. Throughout the program, craftsmanship through careful regulation of touch at the keyboard was not the primary goal, leading to some exciting vigor but also some cheesy excesses.

Nowhere was this more pronounced than a mannered rendition of Schubert’s final piano sonata (B-flat major, D. 960). Where the piece needed simplicity, Soukhovetski gave heavily manipulated tempi and glossed over some significant moments in a rush to score dramatic points, as if one were experiencing a fictionalized movie about Schubert’s last months instead of Schubert’s thoughts about his impending death. If a more ruminative approach had been eclipsed by stunning technical prowess, it would have been one thing, but slips of memory and dexterity, most noticeable in the Strauss, were evident.

Downey is a freelance writer.


Russian pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski performed Sunday at the Phillips Collection. (Peter Schaaf)
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