Classical CD Reviews

Georgy Tchaidze, piano – MEDTNER: 4 Skazki; PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 4 in C Minor; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Georgy Tchaidze, p. – Honens

A new Russian recital by the enormously gifted Tchaidze makes us consider him a serious rival for the laurels accorded his predecessor Richter.

Published on November 9, 2012

Georgy Tchaidze, piano – MEDTNER: 4 Skazki; PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 4 in C Minor; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Georgy Tchaidze, p. – Honens

Georgy Tchaidze, piano – MEDTNER: 4 Skazki, Op. 34; PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 29; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – Georgy Tchaidze, p. – Honens 201202 CD, 72:23 [honens.com/Honens-Shop.aspx] ****:

Over one year ago I reviewed most favorably (9/14/11) Georgy Tchaidze, 2009 Prize Laureate of Canada’s Honens International Piano Competition, in works by Franz Schubert. Now, the Russian-born pianist turns his attention to music from his native soil, recorded at The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada, May 2012. Perhaps the percussive flair of these compositions provides a common thread for the kinds of blazing virtuosity Tchaidze exhibits here, but the dolorous lyricism of these pieces, too, captivates our imaginations as Tchaidze proceeds through their diverse harmonic labyrinths.

The 1917 Four Fairy Tale Pieces by Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) add to our appreciation of his veiled style, a syntax derived from Chopin and perhaps Brahms, and layered with folk rhythms, augmented triads, angular modality, dissonant chords, and idiosyncratic polyphony. An aura of the archaic permeates his music, the passed pageantry of medievalism, such as is celebrated in Poe and Tennyson; here, more specifically in Nikolai Gumilev, Lenau, and Pushkin. As percussive as these pieces may become, Tchaidze preserves a liquid tone and soft pedal that color the Medtner experience significantly. The A Minor Allegro tenebroso “Wood spirit” has a folklore basis, but its musical means clearly point to a staccato etude of virtuoso caliber. One could mistake it for a gloomy sample from Rachmaninov’s Etudes tableaux. The Pushkin-inspired “The Poor Knight” in D Minor resembles a Bach organ piece in a Busoni transcription. Marked Molto sostenuto e semplice, the piece achieves a noble, even austere melancholy in lilting figures. The more liquid passages might embrace Ravel or Liszt but filtered by Russian bells and Eastern doxology. We ask ourselves how such provocative harmony has been neglected so long, and we promise ourselves another hearing, soon.

Another dark piece, Prokofiev’s 1917 C Minor Sonata, follows, a testament to a deceased friend, Maximilian Schmidthof, whose suicide impressed Prokofiev with a sense of universal tragedy and resignation. A certain swagger and apprehension – percussive and slithery – run concurrently through the opening Allegro molto sostenuto.  Rather tenderly-nuanced, the first movement conveys a decided foreshadowing of doom. A weird detachment opens the Andante assai, a movement that becomes diaphanous and ethereal as it proceeds, an evocation of a visit to the dead friend’s grave. Like Sviatoslov Richter, who often championed this richly textured and mercurial work, Tchaidze makes what would be percussive eerily sensual. The last movement leaps forward Allegro con brio, ma non leggiero, another of Prokofiev’s acerbic and angular motor vehicles, brilliant and limpid at once. Tchaidze proves a natural exponent of this composer, capable of synthesizing the diverse elements of spiky flair and melting lyricism with fluid, driven affection.

Can any Russian pianist perform Mussorgsky’s 1874 Pictures at an Exhibition – dedicated to his own dead friend, Viktor Hartmann without having to compete with Richter’s esteemed inscription from Sofia? Tchaidze has power and sonority on his side, although he favors beauty over Mussorgsky’s perverse affinity for grotesquerie. The Promenade theme, in its various manifestations, enjoys plangent colors and hues. The narrative of The Old Castle invoked its Italian nobility and stoicism. The playful elements in Tuileries, Limoges, and Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks have gusto, and the two Jews’ colloquy sly wit. The cleanliness of Tchaidze’s runs will likely benefit any Chopin recital he may proffer later on. The Polish ox-cart, Bydlo, begins ponderously well, but the middle section ould sing more rapturously. Like the last four Chopin preludes, the quartet of pieces concluding the Pictures carry their own architecture: the paradoxical circle of life and death, the Great Gate of Kiev’s containing a motif from the Orthodox baptismal hymn even as the Promenade theme achieves its own apotheosis. Tchaidze speaks eloquently “to the dead in a dead language” before sallying forth on Baba Yaga’s evil, flying hut. If the wicked witch seems too refined in Tchaidze’s realization, the Great Gate provides Tchaidze with a resplendent vehicle for his immense gifts, a touchstone for his future evolution in this music that may well rival his illustrious predecessor, Richter.

—Gary Lemco




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