Music review: Pianist Andrey Ponochevny at the Phillips Collection

Ponochevny (Phillips Collection - Phillips Collection)
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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pianist Andrey Ponochevny's decision to replace the originally scheduled Brahms, Schubert and Rachmaninoff with Scriabin and Prokofiev for his program at the Phillips Collection on Sunday was a bad one. His piece de resistance, Nikolai Medtner's interminable E Minor Sonata No. 2, which opened the program, goes on for over a half-hour but seemed far longer. It is the sort of self-indulgent, over-the-top, romantic effusion that sounds like what a first-rate pianist might improvise to while away time, and, paired with those other two big Russian pieces (good as these are), it mired the afternoon in an avalanche of monster chords.

That being said, however, Ponochevny is an impressive pianist. He couldn't rescue the Medtner from its excesses, but the technical challenges it posed gave him no difficulty at all. He was able to bring out individual lines from the midst of the thickest textures and to draw them out in legato phrases while everything else was crashing percussively around them. He reveled in the color of the music's sonorities and he seemed indefatigable.

It would have been easier to savor Scriabin's Sonata No. 4, Op. 30, if it hadn't followed the Medtner. Ponochevny emphasized the fleetness of the second movement in a way that underplayed its hard edges and focused, instead, on momentum. However, Scriabin and Medtner share a common idiom, and, although Scriabin said it better, Medtner said it longer and louder.

The astringency of Prokofiev's idiom came through nicely in Ponochevny's reading of the B-flat Sonata No. 7. The quiet ruminations of the opening of the second movement were a relief in the midst of a program that was otherwise so bombastic, and the rest bounced along cheerfully.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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