June 5, 1998

Masterly start for piano series with real promise

Oleg Marshev — Town Hall

You couldn’t have wished for a better start to the Purely Piano series than this.

Warm and comfortable in the Town Hall’s great little Concert Chamber, the capacity audience was prepared to be suitably impressed by this young Russian pianist who’s been getting glowing reviews for his recent recordings.

In fact, Marshev swept everyone off their feet. He has a quality of pianism that combines a brilliant technique with breathtakingly expressive effects, and his masterly control of phrases goes hand in hand with an unfailing ability to read, handle and project complex textures with admirable ease.

He approaches the piano like a company director, and stays there, spurning the usual continuous retreats to the wings. He’s here to play, so that’s what he does, beginning with a Bach organ transcription that makes the Steinway piano sound as though it’s housed in a vast cathedral.

And he has a huge range of dynamic effects — magically soft sounds, and a fortissimo sonority that is thrillingly loud yet never goes through the tone.

Nor does he go continually for the big effect, as his two Chopin pieces showed, the Barcarolle in particular surviving its somewhat blurred opening to indulge itself later in exaggerated rubato that made it dream-like, almost impressionistic.

The same sense of dream pervaded the Liszt/Petrarca sonnet, and the massive technical demands of the same composer’s F-minor study were merely secondary to Marshev’s beautifully calculated contrasts of tone and touch.

It was an all-Russian second half, with Prokofiev’s difficult Four Pieces sounding eloquent yet wildly varied, while the dramatic outlines of Rachmaninov’s Second Sonata (a work rarely heard in recital programmes) were clear and purposeful.

Among his many encores, Marshev included the “armoured tank” finale to Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata — another stunning glimpse of the repertoire he has now made his own.

Heath Lees