A trifecta of Russian piano virtuosos hit the Washington area this week. Daniil Trifonov played a wild Prokofiev concerto with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal on Monday night. On the same Thursday night that Nikolai Lugansky performed as soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra, Denis Matsuev appeared with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in the Music Center at Strathmore. That program also featured the BSO’s former music director, Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov, and two Russian orchestral warhorses.
The last time Matsuev was soloist with the BSO, in 2004, he played Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto; this time he branched out by playing the composer’s Third Piano Concerto. A hulking presence, Matsuev lashed out at the keyboard with ursine ferocity, hurling all his considerable strength at the gigantic chords of the first movement’s cadenza. At other times, the orchestra tried to cover him with its own massive sound but ultimately could not. The slow parts oozed and surged with unpredictable rubato, although Matsuev’s tendency to rush in many passages often left Temirkanov and the orchestra in the dust. The impressive facility of Matsuev’s fingers will hopefully be matched by a stronger ensemble unity in subsequent performances.
If one is going to sit through another performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, let it be in the hands of a conductor like Temirkanov. The slowness of the piece’s opening heraldic motto, four horns and two bassoons blaring away on A-flat, seemed a bad sign for the length of this performance, but Temirkanov’s timing still brought it in at the expected duration, slightly longer than more compact performances but with plenty of Russian soul. The brass were imperious, the winds slinky, and the strings resonant and unified in the charming pizzicato scherzo. Best of all, the BSO sounded well-drilled in the fiery finale, which Temirkanov ensured was neither dragged out nor overdone.
The concert repeats Friday and Saturday at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore.